Priorities in Healthcare Disaster Response (part 2 of 2)

What steps can you take to minimize a healthcare disaster? In addition to planning and proper communication, prevention plays a key role in mitigating problems, and problem escalation, at the restoration site.

Prevention in Healthcare Facilities
The damage is done. Or is it? After a flood, fire, or other disaster, there are often secondary problems disguised within the initial damage.

Determining potential risks in the environment is the first step in preventing damage escalation:

  • Are there water mains in the affected area?
  • Do gas lines run through the site?
  • Is a default sprinkler system engaged?
  • Can you turn essential systems (water, power, medical gasses, etc.) off?
  • How will patients, visitors, or staff be directly affected?
  • Are there flammable or toxic materials that could be exposed or unsecured at the site?

Considering these kinds of details allows responders, as well as staff, to anticipate harmful complications that can occur in healthcare settings, before they become a reality. Perhaps the most serious concern for healthcare providers, from skilled nursing facilities to full service hospitals, is the risk of infection. Medical facilities in particular require exact planning and evaluation so precise measures can be taken to prevent and control this risk as soon as possible.

Healthcare Disaster Response: Infection Prevention & Patient Protection
An Infection Control Risk Analysis (ICRA) is important to determine and communicate the level of risk for infection, as well as the proper methods to address those risks. Whether the situation calls for HEPA air scrubbers, negative-pressure containment environments, Tyvek protection suits, safety showers, a highly controlled decontamination process, or any combination of precautions, the ICRA involves the necessary individuals (from the facility administrator and infection control manager to the nurse(s) on duty). Documenting the potential threat and the procedures for containing it ensures continuity across all teams at the site, and provides for the safest healthcare restoration environment. An ICRA also helps maintain the integrity of healthcare sanitation standards so that the facility, patients, residents, staff and responders have the right equipment and resources to manage the restoration site safely. When possible, the restoration contractor should be included on the ICRA development team.

Beyond the threat of infection, implementation of Interim Life Safety Measures (ILSM) are required to establish and ensure the safety of patients receiving treatment where a disaster has occurred. These measures are needed to help safely provide for the continuation of necessary care functions during an emergency. ILSM can prevent potential complications for patients being treated, and provide continuity of their essential care and safety in compromised environments. It is important to involve a restoration contractor who is familiar with both the Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) and Interim Life Safety Measure (ILSM) processes.

Combined with planning and clear communication, managing risk through proper prevention lays the foundation to respond to any healthcare disaster situation safely, and return to regular operations quickly.

About the Author: Jay Hughitt
Jay Hughitt is a project director at Interstate with more than 26 years' experience in the restoration and construction industry. He has extensive experience in healthcare facilities oversight previously working as VP of Construction for a large national healthcare chain. Jay holds numerous professional certifications including: ASHE Certified Healthcare Contractor and OSHA 30-hour Construction Safety and Health Certification


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