Is Your Rural Hospital Ready for a Disaster?

Since 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requires healthcare facilities to comply with certain emergency preparedness requirements. These were revised in 2019, and the revisions were a net positive for hospitals and ambulatory treatment locationsthat now have fewer paperwork requirements related to their emergency preparedness plans and drills. The Joint Commission has its own set of emergency management standards, and those are in the process of being revised to more closely match CMS requirements. But emergency preparedness is about more than meeting requirements and standards. If the disaster you’re preparing for ever happens, planning can help save lives, says Ernie Allen, life safety consultant for HealthTechS3.

As a life safety surveyor, Allen has helped hundreds of hospitals, from 25-bed critical access to 1,000-bed facilities, across the country evaluate their emergency preparedness programs. He also has four decades of experience providing risk management and patient safety services as an account executive for The Doctors Company, a physician-owned medical malpractice insurer. In other words, Allen can speak with authority on emergency preparedness.

He says hospitals are doing a good job, for the most part, with their emergency management plans. Between 9/11, which alerted facilities to the very real possibility of large-scale disasters, and the CMS conditions of participation that took effect three years ago, hospitals of all sizes have “amped up” their emergency management plans.

But, in the face of new and emerging threats against hospitals, it’s important to review these plans regularly and update them for the times. On Nov. 17, Allen will be leading a webinar, It’s Not If, But When: Is Your Organization Prepared for the Next Emergency Event?

Here’s a preview of some of the threats Allen says all hospitals should be focused on now.

Pandemic response: While it seemed at first that rural communities might be spared by the coronavirus pandemic, a surge in cases this fall has shown that’s not the case. In addition to securing personal protective equipment and identifying areas of the hospital that can be designated as COVID-19 treatment areas, rural and community access hospitals in particular also need to identify a nearbysurge location—where a temporary treatment area can quickly be set up if the hospital reaches capacity.   Rural hospitals should have transfer agreements in place to transfer patients to another hospital where patients will be sent for complicated COVID-19 treatment.

Severe weather: This year also has been marked by unprecedented severe weather. The Louisiana Gulf Coast alone was the landfall target of more named tropical storms than in any year, while wildfires in California and across the West also have shattered records. Allen expects events like these to only increase, making readiness in the event of mass casualties or facility evacuation imperative.

Workplace violence: From physical and verbal abuse to active shooter events, workplace violence is a real concern for hospitals. In fact, serious workplace violence incidents are four times more likely to occur in a healthcare environment than elsewhere, says this Becker’s Hospital Review article.

Cybersecurity: In the last week alone, five US hospitals have been targeted by ransomware attacks that hijacks their data and compromises the continuity of patient treatment and care. What’s worse, the FBI expects more attacks like this in the weeks to come. Currently, CMS conditions of participation require hospitals to have an effective antiviral computer software program installed and maintained. The problem with the ransomware is that it can easily infiltrate an entire healthcare system by just one employee clicking a bad link in an email. Allen says this underscores the importance of engaging the entire staff in emergency management.

You don’t want to miss Allen’s Nov. 17 webinar. In addition to identifying different types of threats, Allen will provide an overview of the CMS requirements and highlight best practices in developing and executing an emergency operations plan. Reserve your spot today.