September is National Preparedness Month: What Can Health Care Organizations Do about It?

These days, National Preparedness Month is not the only reason to be thinking about health care preparedness. In addition to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) 2016 Emergency Preparedness Rule, there are now two major hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, that are refocusing our attention on just how prepared (or unprepared) are we for emergencies.

While hospitals have long been central to health care preparedness efforts, the CMS rule now specifies emergency preparedness program requirements for 16 additional health care provider and supplier types including home health, long-term care, hospices, community health centers, community mental health centers, and dialysis centers. At the core of the CMS rule is maintaining business continuity. Leaders of health care organizations must explore how they can continue to serve their patients and clients even in an emergency.

Past experience shows that building health care system resilience at all levels can save lives and relieve pressure on the system when an emergency happens.  For example, after Hurricane Sandy, New York City found that patients needing ongoing treatment such as dialysis or methadone often were required to seek care from hospital emergency departments. Meanwhile, bed capacity in long-term care facilities decreased by 8 percent at peak, hindering hospital capacity to discharge patients and requiring the activation of special medical needs shelters.

While not all disruptions are avoidable, planning can help to mitigate these impacts.

What are some of the key questions can health care leadership ask their staff to identify ways to increase organizational preparedness?

  1. What are our essential functions? Essential functions are often described as including those that: 1) must be continuous or cannot be interrupted for more than 12 hours; 2) protect patients, clients, and staff; 3) are critical to fulfilling your organization’s mission; 4) are necessary to fulfill legal and financial obligations and maintain cash flow, and/or; 5) are necessary to maintain market share and reputation.
  2. What are the resources that are critical to maintaining these functions? Are there instances in which we would not have access to the resources we need? What do we need to do to fill the gap? For example, critical resources needed to provide primary care would include trained staff, diagnostic equipment, supplies, access to a laboratory, a functional health information system, clinical space, and a way to communicate.

By asking these questions of their staff, health care leadership can facilitate identification of their organizations’ gaps, as well improvements that can foster overall preparedness.

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