Are you ready?
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released new emergency preparedness requirements to ensure that providers and suppliers are duly prepared to adequately serve their community during disasters or emergencies. These requirements were stimulated by unexpected and catastrophic events, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, and innumerable natural disasters (tornados, floods, and hurricanes, to name a few). The CMS final rule issued “requirements that establish a comprehensive, consistent, flexible, and dynamic regulatory approach to emergency preparedness and response that incorporates the lessons learned from the past, combined with the proven best practices of the present.” In the rule, CMS outlines three essential guiding principles that any healthcare facility or supplier would need to preserve in the event of a disaster:
- Safeguard human resources.
- Maintain business continuity.
- Protect physical resources.
4 Ways to Be Prepared
What does having a comprehensive disaster preparedness program mean for hospitalists, regardless of site of practice? CMS recommends having four key elements for an adequate program:
1. Perform a risk assessment that focuses on the capacities and capabilities that are critical for a full spectrum of types of emergencies or disasters. This risk assessment should take into consideration the type and location of the facility as well as the disasters that are most likely to occur in its area. It should include at a minimum “care-related emergencies; equipment and power failures; interruptions in communications, including cyber attacks; loss of a portion or all of a facility; and interruptions in the normal supply of essentials, such as water and food.”
2. Develop and implement policies and procedures that support the emergency plan. Hospitalists should know about organizational policies and procedures that support the implementation of the emergency plan and how their team is factored into that plan.
3. Develop and maintain a communication plan that also complies with state and federal law. All the preparations in the world can be crippled without a robust and clear communication plan. The facility must have primary and backup mechanisms to contact providers, staff, and personnel in a timely fashion; this should include mechanisms to repeatedly update providers as the event evolves so that everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and when.
4. Develop and maintain a training and testing program for all personnel. This includes onboarding and annual refreshers, including drills and exercises that test the plan and identify any gaps in performance. Hospitalists will undoubtedly be key members in developing, implementing, and receiving such critical training.
There isn’t a single U.S. healthcare facility or provider that will not be affected by these provisions. An estimated 72,000 healthcare providers and suppliers (from nursing homes to dialysis facilities to home health agencies) will be expected to comply with these requirements within about a year.
In addition to hospitals, CMS also extended the requirements to many types of facilities and suppliers so that such providers can more likely stay open and provide care during disasters and emergencies, or at least can resume operations as soon as possible, to provide the very best ongoing care to the affected community. In most of these scenarios, the need for complex and varied care goes up, not down, further exacerbating gaps in basic care if ambulatory facilities and home care providers are unavailable.
CMS does acknowledge that these requirements will be more difficult to execute in facilities that previously did not have requirements or in smaller facilities with more limited resources. It also acknowledges that the cost of implementation could reach up to $279 million, which some argue is actually an underestimation. Despite these challenges, it is hard to argue against basic disaster preparedness for any healthcare facility or provider as a standard and positive business practice. While most acute-care hospitals have long had disaster preparedness plans and programs, gaps in these programs have become readily apparent during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. CMS also stresses the need for a community approach to planning and implementation and that there is no reason during planning, or during an actual event, that facilities should operate in isolation but rather train and respond together as a community.