Without question, severe weather events can wreak havoc on healthcare facilities, putting patients and employees at risk, not to mention potentially costing millions of dollars.
Among the questions hospital administrators have in the face of a severe weather threat – whether a hurricane, snowstorm, or wildfire, is whether or not to evacuate. Such an evacuation can have tremendous impacts on time, safety, money, and not to mention potential patient and family distress. For example, a single ambulance evacuation of a patient can cost thousands of dollars. However, a wide-scale hospital evacuation of informed and non-informed ambulatory patients requires many logistics, people, vehicles, and hours of precious time.
A decision to evacuate a hospital and arrange to transport patients to another facility usually requires about 48 hours advance notice. However, the path of a hurricane or other weather threats can easily change, as was seen this past fall with Hurricane Ian. Hospitals and other healthcare entities across Florida were making the best decisions they could while facing an ever-changing forecast. However, when the storm finally did make landfall, it caught several parts of the state off-guard.
Many hospitals rely on government forecasts, often based on worst-case scenarios for entire regions while these forecasts may suffice for the general public, they cannot take each location’s specific criteria in mind and will always air on the side of caution, calling for broad evacuations based on zip codes or regions rather than spending precious time on how a weather event will affect individual residences, businesses, or a healthcare facility.
This is where site-specific forecasts come into play and help hospitals prepare and manage operations more effectively when a weather event is within striking distance. Access to accurate and timely information and a trained meteorologist can take a lot of guesswork out of the equation for hospital administrators as they work to make critical decisions.
These decisions impact not only patients’ well-being but staff as well. For example, site-specific forecasts give hospital leaders the knowledge to alert employees traveling to and from work to seek shelter or warn physicians against moving between facilities until it is safe.
As large healthcare systems evaluate plans for their flagship hospitals, they should consider any impacts on ancillary facilities. General practitioners’ offices, walk-in clinics, and outpatient treatment centers are at risk, too. Without access to up-to-the-minute forecasts and information, their operations can abruptly come to a halt, leaving them scrambling for what to do next and where to send their patients.
It’s not a matter of IF a disaster will strike; it’s a matter of when. Taking time to create a plan and invest in resources such as site-specific data will undoubtedly avert losses and chaos. This foresight will also help hospitals foster trust and communication to work together seamlessly during a disaster.
Healthcare entities today are up against a myriad of challenges, including unprecedented staff shortages in the aftermath of a global pandemic. A changing climate, which brings unusual weather patterns and more intense storms, cannot be ignored. Having access to the most accurate and timely forecasts needs to be a top consideration.
Staci Saint-Preux is an Industry Manager at StormGeo, a global provider of advanced weather intelligence support services. She has a crucial role in serving current and prospective clients in the Healthcare, Retail, and Hospitality industries. Before her time at StormGeo, Staci worked as a flight planner and meteorologist for a private aviation company in Houston.