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HM14 Special Report: Disaster Preparedness


Presenters: Dahlia Rizk, Alfred Burger, Reza Samad, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York City

Summary: Disasters can happen anywhere. The team at Beth Israel Medical Center shared their experience with disaster pre-planning and also with severe storm effects of Hurricane Sandy in lower Manhattan in New York City in 2012.

Disaster pre-planning is a very helpful tool. Beth Israel Medical Center (BIMC) had regular leadership planning meetings and mock disaster situations in advance of Hurricane Sandy. Their overall disaster plan included triage of existing patients to a lower acuity setting or discharge. Planning for staff needs, including places to stay if they cannot safely travel home, is part of the disaster plan.

Hurricane Sandy was a disaster in multiple areas including power loss, closure of other healthcare facilities, trauma, infrastructure impairment, and flooding. Some patients were trapped at home. Many ambulatory centers were closed including dialysis units. Hospitals only had partial power because they were working on emergency generators. Infrastructure was not functioning properly. Cell towers and paging system were not functioning.

BIMC received a surge of patients after the storm because of decreased access to medical care in the storm area. One way they dealt with the surge was opening new patient units on two revamped substance abuse units.

There were many lessons learned. A command center for internal communication is required. Communication with outside entities is also important.

Surge planning is also a key consideration. Making bed space, alternative use of staff, patient supplies, staff supplies, staff quarters are all aspects of planning. Disposition enhancement is important for patient care. Social workers and nursing home collaboration are needed. Human resources is needed for short and long term surge staffing. Relationships with other institutions and staffing companies can assist with staffing needs.

Key Takeaways:

  • Disasters happen and are often unpredictable.
  • Preparation is essential.
  • Leadership among staff is crucial.
  • Teamwork is a must and will get the organization through a disaster.

Dr. Hale is a pediatric hospitalist at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and a member of Team Hospitalist.

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