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Meet crises head-on with advance planning

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Hospitals and other health care providers need to prepare for potential crises and natural disasters by developing risk management and treatment practices, said a panel of experts whose health care systems withstood events such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Barry Wante, director of emergency management for Brigham and Women’s Health Care in Boston, described how the hospital mobilized to treat patients who were injured by a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2013. He said all of the people who were hurt but not killed by the initial bomb blast survived due to fast action on the part of medical staff and first responders throughout Boston.

Mr. Wante said health care providers must be prepared to communicate effectively within their own staff and with other health care providers in times of crisis.

“This can’t be done with out collaboration, throughout your organization and other organizations,” Mr. Wante said Tuesday during the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management’s annual conference in Indianapolis.

Theresa Anderson, McKinney, Texas-based managing principal consultant with Caldwell Butler & Associates, spoke of working to save patients when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. At the time, she was senior vice president and chief nursing officer of West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, Louisiana, just south of New Orleans.

Ms. Anderson described how hospital workers banded together to treat critically ill patients and patients with special needs after the hospital hunkered down for the storm and later lost electricity and running water.

The hospital’s work included transferring 20 dialysis patients to a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after West Jefferson lost running water and could not provide treatment to those people. Ms. Anderson recommended that hospitals consider similar situations in their emergency plans.

“If you don’t have a water source, think about what you’d do for renal patients who need dialysis,” Ms. Anderson said.

Ram Raju, president and CEO of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. in New York, described how New York health officials handled the treatment of Dr. Craig Spencer, who was infected with the Ebola virus in 2014 after treating Ebola patients in Guinea. Dr. Spencer was treated at New York’s Bellevue Hospital.

Regarding public health communications, Mr. Raju said city health officials worked to keep public fears about the Ebola virus at bay. That included communicating to the public that Dr. Spencer would not have been contagious while riding the New York subway the day prior to his hospitalization since he was asymptomatic at that time, and that Ebola is not transferred by casual contact.

Michelle Hoppes, CEO and president of the Michigan Professional Insurance Exchange in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said health systems can use enterprise risk management to help plan for crisis situations, since “ERM is about managing uncertainty.”

Barbara McCarthy, enterprise risk officer at Beverly Hospital in Beverly, Massachusetts, said health systems should involve all stakeholders, including board members and care providers, in crisis planning discussions to create risk management strategies that encompass various types of emergency scenarios.

“The more people you get involved, the more outside-the-box thinking you get and you can synthesize that thinking,” Ms. McCarthy said.

The panel presentation was moderated by ASHRM President Ellen Grady Venditti.