What Happens if a Super Storm Hits New England?

In the Press · February 28, 2013

Client Alert
February 28, 2013

Is your health care facility prepared to respond? Do you have an emergency preparedness and evacuation plan that complies with federal and state regulations? When was the last time you reviewed it? When was the last time your staff had training on it?

Hospitals and nursing homes must make myriad decisions if a super storm or disaster hits. The first step to dealing with such a crisis is to have a well-thought-out disaster and emergency preparedness plan that includes detailed response procedures to potential emergencies and disasters, such as fire, severe weather, and missing patients and residents. The next step is to train all employees on emergency plans and procedures when they start their employment and periodically thereafter. Also recommended is conducting unannounced staff drills on emergency plans and procedures.

Some of the challenges hospitals and nursing homes face during a fire or severe weather is deciding whether to evacuate or “shelter in place.” When evacuation is necessary, it is critical to have a plan for obtaining transportation for patients and residents, and maintaining communication with those outside of the hospital or nursing home.

In a study of 24 nursing homes that experienced floods, hurricanes, and wildfires in 2007-2010, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that although federal requirements for written emergency plans and preparedness training were met, the following problems existed:

  • Emergency plans lacked relevant information
  • There were unreliable transportation contracts
  • There was a lack of collaboration with local emergency management
  • Nursing homes were unprepared for residents who developed health problems
  • State long-term care ombudsmen were often unable to support residents during disasters

The OIG also found that six areas in an emergency preparedness checklist prepared by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ were not incorporated in the nursing homes’ emergency plans:

  • Staffing – ensuring sufficient staff
  • Resident care – how to handle resident illness or death, resident counseling, identification of resident needs
  • Resident identification, information, and tracking
  • Sheltering in place – water supply
  • Evacuation – protecting medical records and supplies
  • Communication and collaboration – with long-term care ombudsmen, residents, and appropriate authorities

Health care providers also need to address HIPAA issues during emergencies and disasters. Is your health care facility knowledgeable about what patient information it can share during emergencies and disasters and whether the HIPAA privacy rule is suspended during a national or public health emergency?

To learn more about how your organization can effectively manage an emergency or natural disaster, please register for our upcoming health care seminar scheduled for March 27, 2013. Rochelle H. Zapol, a partner in Prince Lobel’s Health Care Practice, and Herby Duverne and Michael McCourt of Taino Consulting Group will present an interactive discussion that addresses emergency preparedness issues and federal and state regulatory requirements. They will also offer practical solutions to managing a crisis or emergency. Click here for more information and registration instructions. 

If you have any questions about the federal and state regulations, or would like assistance in creating an emergency preparedness plan, please contact Rochelle H. Zapol, a partner in Prince Lobel’s Health Care Practice and the author of this Alert. You can reach Rochelle at 617 456 8036 or rzapol@PrinceLobel.com