Health care organizations across the country prepare for various emergency scenarios, so when a wildfire forced one California hospice to evacuate officials said they were prepared—with a list, Cathie Anderson reports for the Sacramento Bee.
Preparing for an evacuation
Corrigan Gommenginger, CEO of Hospice Services of Lake County, took the helm of the organization more than three years ago, and in that time four wildfires have raged through Lake County, California. But until the Mendocino Complex fires last month, none had advanced close enough to cause an evacuation.
Shortly after the wildfire began, Gommenginger said the entire staff met to go over the emergency response plan and divvied up responsibilities. For instance, Gommenginger's responsibilities included grabbing bills and financial information so that paychecks could be issued as well as working with other team members to load the computers into cars. Development Director Janine Smith-Citron and Systems Administrator Alberto Paez were responsible for setting up the computers at the organization's temporary headquarters and transporting patient files to the safe location.
"We said we hoped we never had to use the plan but here it is," Gommenginger said. "And this is what everybody's responsibility is if we have to evacuate."
Caring for 'seriously ill' patients in the face of an emergency
When the evacuation order came, the team felt as ready as they could be, Anderson reports. The team was equipped with a list of what to grab, what essential tasks needed to be completed, and who was in charge of each task, Gommenginger said.
Per the plan, Clinical Services Director Heather Armstrong called patients and relatives to inform them of the emergency evacuation, offer assistance, and remind patients to take their medications. In addition, Gommenginger ensured that patients received continuous care by communicating with hospices that took in Hospice Services of Lake County's evacuated patients.
"If we were guessing and hadn't made a list, it would have taken us hours," Gommenginger said. "We might have grabbed the wrong stuff or we might have forgotten about stuff."
As a result of their preparation, the team during evacuation was able to stay focused on its mission: caring for "seriously ill or dying" patients, Anderson reports.
Fortunately, the wildfire did not damage the hospice building itself, Gommenginger said. However, he said the fire had "completely burned" the hillsides of Mendocino Complex and firefighters "estimate it came within an eighth of a mile" of the hospice.
Takeaways from unforeseen circumstances
While members of the hospice team "felt that they were as prepared as they could be," Gommenginger said there were a few unanticipated obstacles and offered several recommendations on how other health care organizations might respond in the event of an evacuation:
- Ensure reliable access to internet: Although Smith-Citron and Paez prepared the temporary headquarters, the team had difficulty connecting the internet service. While the staff worked on getting the internet up and running in the temporary location, other staff provided clinical workers with patient updates over the phone.
- Keep patient records updated: Gommenginger said staff should update medical records on their laptops or mobile devices each evening to ensure they are up-to-date in the event of an emergency evacuation.
- Ensure patients have access to needed medications: Gommenginger's team also recommended health care facilities at risk of an emergency evacuation advise patients to have a few weeks' of medication on hand and consider alternative pharmacies and equipment stores. The team noted that in the event of an evacuation most local pharmacies shut down and the few that remain open are likely to run low on supplies.
- Protect patients and workers from environmental hazards: Wildfires emit a lot of smoke which can lead to coughing and irritate eyes, Anderson reports. Health care facilities should take protective measures such as getting masks for the staff to use outside the building and changing the air conditioning filters.
- Keep vehicles fully fueled: Finally, the team recommended health care facilities at risk of wildfire evacuation ensure cars are fully fueled, as stations might run low once the evacuation advisory goes out (Anderson, Sacramento Bee, 8/11).
From wildfires to hurricanes: How can hospitals prepare for disasters?
Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.
Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.