Home health care providers have a lot to handle even in the most ideal situations. Staying organized and being thorough are always critical to providing the highest quality of care possible, but what if disaster strikes? How will you ensure continuity of care in the wake of a crisis situation? With the recent tragedies such as the tornadoes in Oklahoma and fires in Colorado and Texas, disaster preparedness is on the minds of many home health care professionals.
1. Assess Vulnerability. The first step of developing an emergency plan is to identify potential disasters and assess vulnerability. Planning for natural disasters such as severe storms and earthquakes, is essential, but don’t overlook other scenarios such as fire, heating/cooling failures, civil disorder, and community infrastructure breakdowns (i.e. bridge collapse, dam breach). Although these situations may occur less often than those related to weather, they can be every bit as disruptive, if not more so.
2. Prepare Patients at Home. Your patients most likely would prefer to stay in their home during times of crisis. It offers normalcy amidst chaos and is where they feel safest. Involving their family members and ensuring that their residence is well-prepared will allow them to remain there as long as feasible without compromising quality of care.
Gather enough food, water, medication, and other life-sustaining necessities for a minimum of three (3) days and up to two (2) weeks. If a back-up generator is available, ensure your patient is familiar with how to operate it and has sufficient fuel. Additional tips for preparing your patients at home can be found here in the “Prepare Supplies” section: http://hardeechd.org/forms/Disaster%20Planning%20Guide%20for%20Home%20Health%20Care%20Providers.pdf
3. Prepare Your Agency. Disaster preparedness does not end with your patients. Your organization must also be prepared in order to mitigate the effects of any adverse event that might interfere with normal operations. What administrative, supply, and utility considerations should be made? How will you maintain staff communications and transportation? Do you have a back-up plan for electronic records? Also, be sure to develop and assign patients to care level categories ahead of time, so attention can be prioritized when staff is at surge capacity. More considerations can be found at: http://www.kdheks.gov/cphp/download/Emergency_Preparedness_Packet_for_Home_Health_Agencies_NAHC.pdf
Taking the time to think through potential emergencies and developing an action plan before you need it will minimize the negative impacts on the quality of care you provide and the operation of your organization. Solicit input from your staff and coordinate with other emergency responders in your community. Once your emergency plan is developed, be sure all staff members are educated and review the plan on an annual basis.