Brace Yourself, Winter is Coming

This member-only article appears in the December issue of Patient Safety Monitor Journal.

What do you see outside your window? If you’re in many parts of the U.S., you might see a blanket of white. And even if the snow hasn’t started falling yet, it’s a safe bet that it will soon.

Most areas, and hospital facilities, are ready for the typical snowstorm. But are you ready for a truly bad snowstorm that can leave a region crippled for days, or even weeks at a time?

All you have to do is ask folks in places like Buffalo, New York, which was hit with 7 feet of snow in just one storm in November 2014. That same monster storm also blanketed most of the Central U.S. and New England over a six-day period, with amounts reaching record levels in many places. In many cities such as Boston and New York, services ground to a halt, and many citizens found themselves stranded.
Of course, a hospital generally can’t just shut down—at least not without moving or otherwise taking care of its patients.

CMS, The Joint Commission, and other accrediting organizations already require you to have a plan in place to prepare for “all hazards” and emergencies. The plans are meant to prepare for the disruption of hospital services on a mass scale, such as that experienced during disasters such as the California wildfires, New York City during Hurricane Sandy, and Houston during Hurricane Harvey.

If snow is incoming, what are some things you can do to help prepare your facility to ride it out? Allow us to help you form a plan. Also check out FEMA’s sample tabletop exercise that you can use with your staff.

Prepare to turn your hospital into a hotel
In September 2015, Pope Francis visited Philadelphia as part of his first-ever U.S. visit. With more than 3 million people estimated to visit the city, security was so tight in the downtown Philadelphia area that the Secret Service closed off a three-square-mile area that became known as “the box” to emergency planners. Essentially, traffic in and out of the downtown area was stopped for a week.

As was seen during recent winters in places such as Atlanta and other less-prepared areas of the South, a good snowstorm can do the same thing. But neither pope nor snow can stop a hospital from operating.

So take a lesson from the folks in Philly who still had to get their staff into work. Instead of closing, facilities canceled visitations and elective surgeries, and made plans to “hotel” entire shifts of workers at the hospital to make sure they would be able to get to work.
“We were told to plan like this is a major snowstorm, but we had to take this one to extremes,” says Bernie Dyer, director of safety and emergency management for the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia. In a typical snowstorm, Dyer says his hospital might have 200 staff sleeping over, but in this case the hospital had to plan for 1,000 employees to be housed and fed.

A monster snowstorm might not keep your staff hunkered down for a week, but just in case, maybe you should plan to turn a conference room into a supply closet, or use the building under renovation or another seldom-used on-campus building as a temporary hotel for some of your staff.

Prepare to rent shower trailers if you don’t have enough bathrooms, and bring in catering for meals, while making sure there are table games, televisions, and quiet spaces staff can decompress in.

This is an excerpt from a member-only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Patient Safety Monitor Journal.