May 17, 2012

Nine lessons hospitals can learn from the Joplin tornado

Daily Briefing

    Drawing on lessons learned from several natural disasters—including one hospital's total destruction—the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) outlines nine must-have elements in hospitals' emergency plans.

    A wave of disasters in Missouri

    MHA's new report recounts the myriad natural disasters—including blizzards, floods, and tornadoes—that struck Missouri hospitals in the past year. According to the report, state hospitals appropriately implemented emergency plans and command centers when facing most disasters.

    However, the report notes that the health care community was unprepared for a tornado that cut a six-mile-long path through Joplin and directly hit St. John's Regional Medical Center, one of the region's largest hospitals and a Level II trauma center. The deadly twister killed 161 people, including five St. John's patients and one visitor, and destroyed more than 7,000 homes.

    According to MHA, providers' plans had not prepared for a disaster on that level—when "an EF-5 tornado wiped out much of the Joplin community, including nearly one-half of the health care resources"—leading to an overwhelming patient surge.

    Key tactics for preparedness planning

    To better prepare for future disasters, MHA outlines nine important elements of hospital's preparedness plans:

      1: Communications. Strategic and tactical communication is critical to coordinating employees, the media, and the public, and must include redundant types of equipment that workers are training to use.
      2: Evaluation. Hospitals must test all emergency plans to identify and correct weaknesses.
      3: Medical surge. Emergency plans must establish detailed procedures for patient care in conventional, contingency, and crisis settings and include solutions to limitations of staff, supply, and space.
      4: Planning. Creating emergency plans provide staff with critical thinking skills needed to manage disaster responses. As such, all employees should be involved in and understand the plan and hospitals should plan and practice with their regional and state partners.  
      5: Resources and assets. Hospitals should task an individual with supply management during a disaster to evaluate supply levels, monitory supply use, and anticipate needs.
      6: Safety and security: Hospitals should be aware of imposters and opportunists who try to take advantage of crisis situations.
      7: Staffing. Hospitals should decide how to manage and care for hospital staff during disaster response and recovery.
      8: Volunteers.  Hospitals' plans should incorporate ways to accept, credential, and use volunteers who do not have basic lodging and food accommodations.
      9: Utilities. Hospitals should not depend on utilities and should consider redundant systems and partnership for water and power sources.

    However, MHA CEO Herb Kuhn warns that "plans are just tools." He notes that "what really matters is readiness, and that's a result of continuous training" (MHA report, 5/15; MHA release, 5/15; Barr, Modern Healthcare, 5/15 [subscription required]).

    More from today's Daily Briefing
    1. Current ArticleNine lessons hospitals can learn from the Joplin tornado

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