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Preparing for a Disaster - What Your Healthcare Business Needs to Know

Facing an unexpected disaster, whether it be a hurricane, fire, earthquake or even terrorist activity is daunting for any business. And those in the healthcare industry have even more to worry about than their facilities and equipment.

Nursing homes, hospices and other patient care facilities have the responsibility of looking after the most vulnerable among us. These populations rely on their caregivers for more than their daily needs. In the event of a disaster, they’ll be looking to you for safety and protection. And while home healthcare and home-based durable medical equipment (DME) businesses may not care for patients directly, if disaster strikes, access to their life-saving equipment and services may not be available.

If you aren’t ready for it, an emergency can cost a healthcare-based business more than just money or assets. It can cost your patients their lives. This represents an enormous risk and responsibility that can bring your business to its knees even after the immediate danger has passed. Despite this, healthcare facilities, homecare business, and DME providers have routinely been caught unaware and unprepared when audited for disaster preparedness. Don’t let this happen to you.

Preparing for the Worst

Insurance agents can tell you horror stories about a lack of disaster preparedness in the healthcare industry. Stories abound of skilled care facility staff having difficulty evacuating patients with ambulatory problems, or a service provider such as a kidney dialysis center being unable to treat patients immediately after a natural disaster. For those providing life-saving DME such as oxygen concentrators, and ventilators, your business’s survival after a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake can mean survival for your customers.

It’s almost impossible to make good decisions in the midst of a disaster, so don’t want to wait until the fires are raging and the winds are howling to start thinking about how you’ll respond.

Your organization should have a carefully constructed Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) plan in place that is shared with all staff members in writing as part of your facility’s onboarding process. This document should include clear instructions for safeguarding staff members and patients, contacting emergency services, and providing care in the aftermath.

You’ll want to make sure your BCDR plan is reviewed and updated at least annually, and employees should be informed of updates as part of their ongoing training and development. They should also receive regular opportunities to practice their assigned role in an emergency situation so they’ll know exactly what’s expected of them when disaster strikes.

When developing your BCDR policies, remember that disasters come in many forms. Storms, fires, and earthquakes are a good place to start, but your plan should also include policies and procedures for instances of criminal or terrorist activity, widespread public health crises, and even mass utility failure. Having a comprehensive BCDR plan in place can help minimize the damage caused by a disaster, and will also go a long way toward convincing public health inspectors and even your insurance company that you’ve done your due diligence.

Evacuation Planning Is Critical

Do you know, beyond a doubt, that your staff members know how to get your patients or residents to safety during a disaster? Are you confident the employees of your healthcare service or DME business understand what’s needed to ensure continued delivery of your services or products after a disaster?

If you don’t, this needs to be a part of your BCDR discussions. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all plan. If your building is on fire, then you’ll need to get all staff members and patients clear of the blaze as quickly as possible, maintaining clear exit lanes and orderly evacuation procedures. In an earthquake, on the other hand, it’s critical to keep people still, calm, and protected until the shaking stops, and then assess the situation and evacuate them afterward depending on the damage.

Have a plan in place for assisting patients with ambulatory problems during an evacuation. You don’t want to be caught wondering how you’re going to get fifty people in wheelchairs down a flight of stairs in the middle of a disaster. You will also want to address what staff members should do to protect themselves and your patients if they are trapped during an evacuation attempt. Evacuation planning may seem like an obvious precaution, but you’d be amazed how many patient care facilities completely neglect this step.

For home healthcare service and DME providers, your plan should outline steps needed to move equipment to a safe location, and alternative methods for distributing and delivering your goods and services during and after a disaster. Planning should also include ensuring your customers who use equipment that require electricity have back-up batteries, as well as emergency contact information should a customer need to leave their home.

Regardless of your type of business, be sure to include identifying backups for essential operations, supply chains, personnel, business functions, records, data processes, and communication channels.

Plan for What Comes Next

According to the Insurance Information Institute, as many as 40% of businesses forced to cease operating for even short periods of time in the wake of a disaster never reopen. If you’re in the business of providing patient care, or the vital medical equipment that keeps patients alive in their homes, this can create an enormous burden on your patients and their loved ones. Your BCDR plan should include provisions for how you will continue to provide care once the disaster has passed, but planning might not be enough.

Make sure you involve your insurance agent in your BCDR discussions. Your business insurance might provide full or partial coverage for your lost or damaged property, but that money can disappear quickly while you’re scrambling to secure a new space, account for damaged or destroyed equipment, and get yourself back up and running. Make sure you ask about the possibility of adding Business Interruption insurance to your policy. This form of coverage provides protection against a variety of common interruptions, and can provide you with several crucial benefits including:

  • Replacement of lost revenue
  • Money for rent, lease, and loan payments
  • Assistance with relocation and operational maintenance
  • Assistance with paying your staff members

In addition to financial assistance, your insurance agent can also provide you with resources and information that can help you during the BCDR planning process and help you to minimize the damage from a disaster or interruption.

Don’t Be Left Vulnerable

With so many things competing for your attention on a daily basis, it’s easy to put off thinking about how you’ll mange if the worst happens to your facility. Don’t be left vulnerable when disaster strikes. Have a plan, practice it often, and stay in touch with your insurance agent. You and your patients and customers will sleep better knowing your facility or business is prepared and protected.

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