June 2007
Do You Have a Disaster Plan?

HMT From the Editor

By Michael McBride

The snail in my fish tank hasn't moved in three days. It did this once before and I almost removed it, when, inexplicably, it started crawling and cleaning the glass. Pet shop guy says it was only sleeping for a week. Apparently, once enough gunky stuff (read, snail food) builds up, snails go about their business. It would seem that snails are entirely reactive. Only the snail knows for sure.

Healthcare organizations are a little like that reactive. (Oh, whom am I kidding - they're a lot like that.) The events following the attack on the Twin Towers and Hurricane Katrina revealed in the strongest terms how much of our nation lacked adequate systems to deal with mass-casualty events. And yet, though years have passed, I still hear of major organizations that don't have in place adequate disaster-preparedness plans. How can that be?

Did we learn nothing from those events? Are we so complacent that we can go about our business without preparing for the inevitability of the disaster? Are you, even now, ignoring the possibility that your organization may not be adequately prepared? If so, you're part of the problem, not the solution, and when disaster strikes, you'll be partly responsible for the patient outcomes.

 I live in Florida, where June heralds the start of another hurricane season, so I'm understandably concerned. I'm wondering if my local hospital can adequately communicate with first responders. Is there a patient-tracking system to prevent my becoming displaced? Are there bed management systems, so I won't become a hallway patient should I end up in the ED? Are all of the hospitals in my region exchanging medical information across a network, in case I can't get to my local hospital? Do I have an electronic health record to warn caregivers that I'm allergic to penicillin? (I'm not, but you get the idea.)

Recently, I attended a tri-county disaster- preparedness drill in the area where I live. It appeared to be well organized and executed. I was impressed. Valuable information must have been gleaned that day, which, I hope, was used to improve the hospitals, the first-responders and local law enforcement's preparedness and response to disaster.

In the past year, members of Congress, as well as those of numerous state and local governments, have proposed or enacted a plethora of legislation to incent the healthcare industry. The future of healthcare in America will be one of the top issues of the 2008 Presidential election. All this, and still some healthcare organizations appear to be asleep at the wheel, missing the signs, until they drive themselves right over a cliff taking their unfortunate patients along for the ride - patients who trusted them to be prepared.

The fact is resources exist to address all of these issues. The guide you hold in your hands contains all the contacts and knowledge a healthcare executive needs to construct an organization's foundation of preparedness.

It's up to you, the healthcare decision maker, to take action and ensure patient safety. Only you can opt to pursue preparedness. Only you can learn from past events and apply those lessons to future responsibilities. Only you can choose to be proactive.

Choose it. Don't be the snail.

Copyright 2007
Nelson Publishing, 2500 Tamiami Trail North, Nokomis, FL 34275