Emergency Preparedness: Expect the Unexpected

By Jennifer Thew, RN

The coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan has grabbed headlines over the past few weeks, as it sickened thousands and hundreds of people dead as of January 31.  In addition to the cases in China, there have been 11 confirmed cases of the virus in United States, with one case of person-to-person transmission occurring on January 30 in the Chicago area.

While domestic numbers of the virus are still low, the situation serves as a reminder that hospitals and health systems need to be prepared for whatever virus, outbreak, disaster, or emergency event comes their way.

Here are four HealthLeaders articles that highlight how nurse executives can prepare for and lead when these types of situations occur.

1. Technology Can Zap Fear of the Unknown

Before coronavirus, there was Ebola, SARS, and middle eastern respiratory syndrome. In 2014, Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, earned the distinction of caring for the first person in the U.S with a confirmed case of MERS. There have been only two confirmed cases of MERS in the U.S. The other one was in Florida.

“I don’t think anyone can ever realize the kind of stress an organization is under when this type of event occurs,” says Ronda McKay, DNP, RN, CNS, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care at Community Hospital.

The fact that they were heading into unknown territory hit home when, during a conference call, McKay asked Indiana State Department of Health officials what would happen if the patient tested positive for the MERS virus.

“There was a pause on the phone call and [the] exact words were, ‘Life as you know it will change,'” McKay says.

Read on to get McKay’s pointers on how Community Hospital thwarted any further transmission of MERS and prevented widespread panic by creatively using existing technology to gather data and then carefully communicating it to public health authorities, staff members, and the public.

2. Ready for a Disaster? If Not, It Will Cost You.

Emergencies and disasters follow a Forrest Gump philosophy, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

“This stuff’s happening all over the place in different venues and at different times,” says Eric Alberts, corporate manager, emergency preparedness at Orlando Health. “A fertilizer plant explosion or a train derailment with chemicals or a vehicle that crashes into a building or a shooting. These things are happening everywhere, and you can’t predict it.”

Alberts speaks from experience. Orlando Health Medical Center is just a few blocks from Pulse nightclub where 50 people were killed and more than 50 were injured during a mass shooting in 2016.

But hospitals and health systems can, and should, prepare for the unexpected, and administrative leaders should lead the charge, he says. In this article, Alberts shares insights he gained from the incident.

3. 3 Ways Health Systems Can Prepare for Natural Disasters

There’s no stopping Mother Nature. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires are all bound to happen, and when they do, hospitals and health systems will be affected. However, there are tangible things leaders can do to make sure their organization is prepared when disaster strikes.

One way to ensure patients can still receive care even if roads are closed or transportation is difficult, is to make sure patients and the community are aware of an organization’s telehealth options.

Electronic health records have become a necessity in providing patient care. But what happens if patients are displaced during a disaster? Patient records can remain available through Health Information Exchanges. However, leaders must be proactive and make sure electronic connections are set up in advance of a disaster.

Take a look at the article for details on how to ready your organization for disaster.

4. Nurses Not Immune to Stress from Disaster

When a community begins the path to recovery after a disaster, it’s important to remember the experience may also leave marks on victims’ psyches. And that includes nurses.

For example, two reports centered on nurses working at NYU Langone Health’s main hospital during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, found that RNs are personally and professionally affected by natural disasters. Key themes that emerged were the need for communication—both improving channels and its importance in connecting nurses with others during a crisis—and social support.

Insights on emergency preparedness, recovery, and resilience can be found here.

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.