Q: How does your hospital prioritize rapid response and what processes do you have in place that allow you to deploy care and communicate effectively during emergencies or natural disasters?
DIRECTOR, PR, COMMUNICATIONS AND CREATIVE SERVICES
Crisis communication is vital for operations and that was never more apparent than during a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey. During Harvey, all of Houston Methodist’s eight hospitals remained open through the entirety of the storm – serving our communities even when the city was underwater.
A major key to our success was simply preparedness – our public information officer knew ahead of time exactly what types of communications would be available and how they could best be used in a disaster response setting. The ability to effectively communicate during an emergency is a highly-valued resource and building good working relationships with leadership and knowing what your communications tools are ahead of time, makes the entire process more effective.
My advice is to remain disciplined. You don’t want 10 different PR people sending out communications about 100 different things. Crisis communications should come from one source and be scheduled in such a way that they help inform, not overwhelm, your efforts. During Harvey, we had daily conference calls with the PIO and hospital CEOs to ensure the entire system was aligned on needs and could communicate them effectively.
HEATHER RAMBEAU, RN
CHIEF NURSING OFFICER
On June 26, 2018, our disaster response systems were stretched beyond anything we had prepared or trained for when a large explosion decimated new construction at our hospital. The building partially collapsed, and the explosion ignited a large fire.
Fifteen construction workers were severely injured, and one worker died at the scene. The blast resulted in an immediate loss of power for the entire facility, which includes an assisted and independent living facility and a 90-bed long term care facility. An event of this size would be overwhelming to any rural hospital but becomes even more so when it is on your campus and effectively disables the resources you would use to provide care.
Our first step was to establish an onsite triage location and to bring supplies, equipment, and medications from our emergency department to provide care as quickly as possible. Coryell EMS also staged an incident command center near the triage site, immediately began arranging transports and notified the Regional Advisory Council for activation. The Texas Emergency Medical Task Force was also notified and asked to assist with additional support and resources.
We hold routine drills and emergency preparedness activities and have policies and training in place to prepare for disasters. Preparation played a role in ability to respond so rapidly and, though not one policy manual was pulled out that day, many emergency plans were carried out seamlessly. Whether it was conducting the initial evacuation, tracking residents from our long-term care facility, providing transport to alternative locations, or even having staff on-site at receiving facilities so patients were greeted by familiar faces – our staff was prepared, able to communicate effectively, and provide high quality care when it was needed most.
Within just four days, we were able to re-open our Urgent Care. Within five days, our Emergency Department was open. And within one week, the entire hospital was back up and running. That wouldn’t have been possible without our pre-existing relationships with the community and neighboring hospitals and our emergency preparedness training. But, most of all, our commitment to our patients and residents was the key reason we were able to accomplish what we did in such a short period of time.