Disasters can strike at anytime, and for the most part, happen without warning. That is why is has become vital for health care organizations to prepare in advance for disasters. The most common type of disasters are natural (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. ). Since natural disasters have always been around, health care professionals have been aware of their capabilities and possible damage they can wreck upon society. For example, Hurricane Katrina completely wiped out the city of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, leaving the city helpless.
Not only did the tragedy claim the lives of thousands of Americans, it also led to power failures, water and fuel shortages, flooding, and communication breakdowns. While American health care organizations have had emergency plans for natural disasters, they could not fathom a hurricane of that magnitude. Another type of disaster that has become more of a focal point over the past decade is chemical or hazardous materials disaster. Whether these disasters are intentional (terrorist attacks) or unintentional (chemical spills or nuclear meltdowns), they are just as serious and need to be prepared for just like natural disasters.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the more recent tsunami that stuck Japan on March 11, 2011 and destroyed nuclear plants releasing radiation into the environment, are two examples of intentional and unintentional disasters, respectively. Nature and Scope Large scale emergencies are a threat to any health care entity, regardless of location, size, or scope. No health care organization can predict the nature of a future emergency, nor can it predict the date of its arrival. However, health care providers can plan by following six major areas of emergency response.
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These six areas of emergency preparedness were set forth by The Joint Commission (TJC), formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), an United States-based not-for-profit organization that accredits over 19,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States. The six areas of emergency management are as follows: open lines of communication, availability of resources and assets, safety and security of the patients, staff responsibilities, uninterrupted function of its utilities, and patient clinical and support activities.
All of these areas must be taken into consideration when preparing for disaster. Disasters can happen at any time and place. Not all disasters happen outside of a health care organization. “The hazards to which a hospital is susceptible include fire, utility failure, armed intruder, and hazmat release (occurring within the facility); and hurricane, earthquake, landslide, external fire, flood, tornado, other severe storm, external hazmat release, and civil disturbance” (Sternberg, 2003).
These type of disasters are termed “internal disasters”, and are just as difficult for health care organizations to prepare for as off-site (external) disasters. Impact and Importance on American Health Care It is absolutely crucial for healthcare organizations to have emergency plans put in place and ensures that its employees know what their role is in case of a full scale disaster. Emergency plans have to be continually changed and updated to meet Federal, state, and local laws and statutes.
Along with developing a emergency plan, health care organizations must routinely practice and execute their emergency plan to help better prepare its employees for a disaster. The better prepared the organizations employees are, the potential for higher survival rate of the disaster’s victims. In the event that a disaster strikes, health care organizations must run post-emergency assessments of the facility’s performance during the crisis and make the necessary improvements to help better serve its patients in the case of a similar disaster.
Continual strides must be made with regards to preparing for disaster for health care providers, because disaster can strike at any moment. It is so important for government agencies, emergency personnel, and heath care organizations to band together to help create plans that will save lives and produce the best possible outcome. The most difficult aspect of disasters is that they are completely unpredictable, but with health care organizations continual persistence of staying ahead of the curve and developing emergency plans, American lives will be saved.
- Ford, Lauren. (2008). Preparing a hospital and community for disaster. Retrieved September 17, 2011 from http://bama. ua. edu/~joshua/archive/may08/Hospital%20Preparedness%20-%20Lauren%20Ford. doc.
- Graham, Jaclyn. (2007, June). Approved: revisions to emergency management standards for critical access hospitals, hospitals, and long term care.
- The Joint Commission Perspectives, 27, 1-10. Sternberg, E. (2003).
- Planning for resilience in hospital internal disaster. Prehospital Disaster Medicine, 18(4):291–300.
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