Prioritizing Patient Safety During a Disaster

Updated on April 21, 2024

From hurricanes and earthquakes to floods and wildfires, natural disasters present unique challenges hospitals must navigate while continuing to provide high-quality care to their communities. Healthcare workers are accustomed to handling unexpected circumstances, and facilities that prioritize proactive preparation are better equipped to ensure patient safety while responding to emergencies.

When natural disasters disrupt operations, prepared teams can maintain their focus, ensure a safe environment, and take the necessary steps to manage the situation. The following insights offer key strategies and considerations to strengthen emergency preparedness plans, keeping patient safety at the heart of every response plan.

Understanding risk factors and strategies to address them.

In the past year, 28 natural disasters impacted and disrupted operations for healthcare facilities across the U.S. Depending on the location, a hospital may be at a higher risk of being impacted by an event such as a tornado or a hurricane. However, as weather patterns become less predictable due to climate change, natural disasters may strike in areas other than their typical regions. Facilities nationwide need to continuously assess the evolving risk factors facing their communities to determine preparation strategies.

To support in identifying vulnerabilities for each facility, the Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) Risk Identification and Site Criticality (RISC) Toolkit offers data-driven all-hazards risk assessments that can create a foundation for an effective emergency management plan. The toolkit compares diverse facilities nationwide to analyze effective methods for resiliency depending on factors such as facility type, region, and more. Additionally, the Primary Protection: Enhancing Health Care Resilience for a Changing Climate report assists healthcare leaders in prioritizing patient safety during and in the aftermath of a disaster by helping them evaluate their organization’s resiliency and implement solutions to fill gaps.

Training team members to streamline response efforts.

Creating a standardized process for facility workers to follow when faced with a natural disaster supports a smoother overall response. An all-hazards plan outlines the basic steps for the early stages of an emergency and guides the team in streamlining their efforts, coordinating resources, and communicating with local partners depending on their current needs.

Proper training is essential to ensure a sustained state of readiness and build the team’s confidence in taking the right steps to reduce hazards and maintain fluid operations when faced with uncertainty. Depending on the time of year and location, teams should practice protocol to gain familiarity ahead of seasonal storms, such as hurricane and tornado season.

Establishing effective partnerships and utilizing resources.

Healthcare leaders can turn to community, partner, and government resources to help strengthen their response and recovery plans while reducing costs. These tools can ease some of the strain on the facility team during emergencies to allow their focus to remain devoted to patient safety.

To reduce long-term risks related to disaster damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants to cover a portion of the costs associated with projects that reduce disaster losses for the physical facility and community.FEMA’s Public Assistance Program also offers reimbursement to private, not-for-profit health organizations for disaster recovery expenses, including generators, debris removal, infrastructure repairs, and more that are not covered by insurance.

Working with the right suppliers and partners can also enhance resiliency ahead of natural disasters. Healthcare leaders can ensure their facilities have access to resources by diversifying their supply chain to ensure they will be able to access essential equipment, such as generators. Similarly, partnering with service providers that specialize in areas like meteorology can be vital assets to support informed decision-making based on detailed weather forecasts to avoid evacuating a facility when it may not be necessary.

When a disaster strikes, collaboration is critical for a healthcare facility to maintain a safe healing environment and provide care when the community needs it most. By implementing proactive solutions and initiatives, healthcare leaders can create a foundation for an effective, teamwide response and recovery to safeguard patients in the face of any disaster.