How hospitals can prepare for Hurricane Irma

Two Houston providers discuss the successful efforts that helped them to weather Harvey and remain open during the hurricane.
By Jessica Davis
03:50 PM
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Florida Governor Rick Scott talks to local emergency leaders in Florida as Hurricane Irma approaches. Photo via Twitter

Even in the midst of a storm, healthcare providers are responsible for ensuring medical services continue. So, as Hurricane Irma looms off of the coast of Florida, and Hurricane Jose close behind, it’s imperative hospitals not only plan to weather the storm -- but also ensure patient safety in the aftermath.

Communication was top of mind for VillageMD Houston, which was able to remain open during Hurricane Harvey by using its cloud-based EHR -- and by zeroing in on patient needs.

“Most importantly -- connect with your patients. Having a plan for getting communications out to patients prior to any potential storm is key,” said Dan Jenson, CFO of VillageMD Houston. “Inform them of the best way to contact you during an emergency and where to turn for care once the storm passes.”

“This is imperative as resources may be scarce,” he said.

For Advanced Diagnostics Hospital and Clinic in Houston, its storm preparations were put to the test with Harvey. To its CEO and COO Rob Turner, safety of patients, staff and providers were imperative as the hospital determined how to keep operations up and running during the storm.

The first step is to make the decision early on whether the provider should remain open or evacuate. Turner said the media can often generate a lot of hype when major storm systems hit, so it’s critical for providers to rely on solid data sources, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA provides weather forecast tools and satellite views that follow the storm and its path.

Once the organization determines whether to keep operations running, providers need to review their disaster preparedness plan and test staff by running drills, explained Turner.

No matter the size of the organization, much of the preparedness checklist is the same: food and water supplies, reliability of power sources and test phone and internet connections.

“The unfortunate nature of disasters like Hurricane Harvey and Irma is that nothing can truly prepare you for the weather that might ensue,” said Turner. “Because we are on a cloud-based IT system, we weren’t concerned with servers or access to patient data, but for some facilities, it’s a critical concern.”

Turner recommends choosing what Advanced Diagnostics dubbed the ‘Ride Out’ team -- “a group of essential employees who decide to stay at the facility throughout the hurricane to care for patients.”

And for non-essential employees, Turner said to “ensure they are able to work remotely from safe environments. In addition to providing peace of mind, this allowed us to keep our back-end operations running as usual.”

And lastly, Jenson recommended organizations put a post-storm plan into place to make sure the hospital is up and running as “soon as it’s safe to do so.”

“Communication is key, especially in having a plan for after the storm,” said Jenson. “A lot of focus is spent on how to stay up and running and how to protect patients after the storm. But after the storm is where a lot of the hard work begins.”

This includes patients with a lot of needs, and serving the community that will be in a tough spot after the storm.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com