COVID-19 Tests Emergency Preparedness in Healthcare

Unfortunately, the time for activating your Emergency Operations Plan is here.

COVID-19 Tests Emergency Preparedness in Healthcare

Unfortunately, the time for activating your Emergency Operations Plan is here.  Every healthcare facility needs to activate the Pandemic Threat portion of your specific threats from your required Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (HVA).  With uncertainty surrounding both means of transmission and incubation period of COVID-19 – it may be that the virus has already infiltrated your facility.

The first virus-related deaths tied to the Kirkland Life Care Nursing Center in Seattle, Washington occurred days earlier than previously known — and well before residents had been quarantined in their rooms.  This means that the virus was operating in the facility well before any officials had identified the problem. 

A man in his 50s, who was rushed from the facility in a Seattle suburb to a hospital on Feb. 24, died days later. On the same day, another patient from the center, a woman in her 80s, died at her family home. Now 10 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 from this facility alone.  These horrible events point out the necessary questions: Was the nursing facility ready?  Was the Seattle hospital ready?

Seema Verma, head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), stated this week that the agency is sending inspectors to the nursing center in Seattle, along with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to figure out what happened and determine whether the nursing home followed guidelines for preventing infections.

Regulatory Requirement

Your facility’s Emergency Operations Plan is required by the Final Rule on Emergency Preparedness adopted by CMS (with compliance required no later than November 15, 2017) and in your HVA, pandemic disease threats should have been addressed.   The CMS regulations apply to hospitals, Long Term Care facilities and other Clinics and Rehabilitation facilities

Use the Threat as an Opportunity

  1. Activate your  Emergency Plan
  2. Gather your Team — you need their cooperation and input. Nursing associations are speaking critically nationwide about health facilities’ lack of preparation, supply shortages and the lack of nursing input into emergency planning.
  3. Assess your readiness preparation – Count your supplies, contact suppliers and nearby facilities.  Be ready to ask for what is needed.  It is expected that $8 billion in federal funds will become available for COVID19 readiness as of today
  4. Activate and test your facility’s Communication Plan – both internal and external.  Internally you need to reach and notify staff of changes in needs and expectations.  Externally you need to be able to quickly and confidently speak to families.  News stories from Seattle are covering families left in the dark about the health status of their loved one and the availability of testing.

After the threat subsides, you will need to make necessary updates to your Emergency Operations Plan based upon the facility-learning accomplished in this trying time.  Be sure you document your activation process and your performance through After Action Reports.  Turn this terrible threat into a positive opportunity for your patients/residents, your staff, and your facility’s future.