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Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Starts With These 7 Critical Functions

Jake Young| September 14, 2018

What’s more complex than preparing your healthcare facility for an emergency?

Ironically, it’s maintaining compliance with the CMS’s latest mandate regarding emergency preparedness. That’s because, for all its good intentions, the CMS’s call for an all-hazards approach doesn’t provide much guidance on implementation.

Fortunately, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) does in Chapter 12 of the latest version of NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code. And one of the NFPA’s first steps to implementing an all-hazards approach—after a Hazard Vulnerability Assessment—is to identify the critical functions of your hospital.

Once these seven, universally applicable functions are identified, preparation can center around how to best protect these functions against all hazards. As a result, healthcare emergency preparedness is simplified because it focuses on all hazards as they relate to the most critical functions of the facility.

To get you started towards better preparation and compliance, this article cover those 7 critical functions and how you can plan to protect them, as identified by the NFPA.

1. Communications

In regards to communications systems, The Healthcare Facilities Code recommends planning for initial and ongoing communication with:

First responders
Staff
Patients and their families
The community
The media
Suppliers of medical and nonmedical supplies
Alternative care sites

It’s also vital to have a plan in place for the establishment of backup communication systems. In fact, according to the Office of the Inspector General, 89 percent of hospitals affected by Hurricane Sandy experienced communication and electrical failures. This created significant challenges for healthcare facilities that were already facing a difficult situation.

Ideally, you can leverage emergency communication tools that aren’t reliant on the internet or existing phone systems.

2. Resources and Assets

As far as a hospital is concerned, the critical resources needed during an emergency response and recovery are staff and supplies.

To ensure that supplies don’t run out, there should be a plan for acquiring medical, pharmaceutical, and non-medical supplies during an emergency. Also documented in that plan should be procedures for replacing those supplies if they run out during response and recovery.

Strategies for managing certain staff support activities should also be planned out well in advance. These support activities include providing housing, transportation, hydration, nutrition, and sanitation to the hospital staff. There also needs to be a plan to manage your staff’s family needs such as child, elder, and pet care.

3. Safety and Security

Every healthcare facility manager should know who is in their building and where they are. That goes double during an emergency. The NFPA recommends formulating a plan for controlling both foot and vehicle traffic. Special consideration also needs to be made for patients that are susceptible to wandering.

Also included in safety and security is the need for a plan to manage internal security, hazardous materials and waste, and chemical isolation and decontamination.

4. Essential Utilities

There are 9 utilities and systems that are essential during an emergency. Not all of them may be applicable to your healthcare facility, but here they are:

  • Electricity
  • Potable and nonpotable water
  • Wastewater
  • HVAC
  • Fire Protection
  • Fuel for building operations
  • Fuel for essential transportation
  • Medical gas and vacuum
  • Information technology

Anything that’s identified in the Hazard Vulnerability Analysis as a threat to one of these essential utilities should be planned for and documented.

5. Exterior Connections

The Healthcare Facilities Code doesn’t expressly mandate installing exterior building connections such as backup generators. However, it does say that “based on the facility’s HVA (Hazard Vulnerability Assessment), consideration shall be given to the installation of exterior building connectors to allow for the attachment of portable emergency utility modules.”

In other words, depending on the emergency needs of your facility, you may want to consider installing exterior connections to allow for backup utilities.

6. Clinical Support Activities

As you might imagine, certain clinical activities such as scheduling, assessment, admission, etc., may need to be modified during an emergency. And that’s why the Healthcare Facilities Code recommends creating a plan to address potential modification or discontinuation of these activities.

Keep in mind that this also includes planning for evacuation and transportation of patients, along with their medication and equipment, to alternative care sites.

7. Staff Roles

To keep this critical function working, healthcare emergency managers need to clearly define staff roles for each of the other six functions outlined in this post. Additionally, staff should be trained in their assigned roles and there should be a plan for managing all staff during an emergency.

Conclusion: Technology, Facilities Teams, and The 7 Critical Functions

The Healthcare Facilities Code highlights the necessity of involving facilities and engineering teams in the emergency planning process. After reviewing these 7 critical functions, it should be clear why the people who understand the inner workings of your facility best play a pivotal role during the planning stages of your healthcare facility’s emergency preparedness efforts. After all, FMs handle communication systems, utilities, security, and more on a daily basis.

But what happens if certain, critical members of the facilities or engineering teams aren’t around during an emergency and communication systems are down?

That’s where technology such as the ARC Facilities can bridge the gap. By allowing you to digitally store and access emergency plans, utility shut-off locations, and more – even without an internet connection – you’ll never be left without the information you need. Plus your staff will have access to the information they need when they need it.

That way, even when the power goes out and the phones go down, you’re prepared. Learn more today about how ARC Facilities can help you prepare for and manage, healthcare facilities emergencies.

About the author

Jake Young National Director, Facilities, ARC

Jake Young has 10+ years of experience in the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) space. His wealth of knowledge gained from numerous consulting and engineering roles makes him an expert in client implementation of SaaS (cloud based) technology solutions to achieve breakthrough productivity.

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