July/August 2006

Catholic Health Initiatives Creating Repository of Preparedness Plans

07-06nsidechiart Photo

To better prepare the system to respond to a local or national disaster, Catholic Health Initiatives is collecting the disaster preparedness plans of all market-based organizations and maintaining them in a central repository. “All health care facilities must have disaster response plans, as required by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations,” said Milt Hammerly, MD, vice president of medical operations and integrative medicine for Catholic Health Initiatives. The repository of plans will also help Catholic Health Initiatives increase the preparedness of the national offices. “The national offices must be able to maintain support services for our local facilities in the event of a disaster, especially as we centralize some of our functions,” said Hammerly. “Centralization makes the continuity of system-level operations even more important for Catholic Health Initiatives.” In Case of Isolation Hammerly noted that plans for responding to certain types of disasters, such as an epidemic or a pandemic, which is an extremely widespread epidemic, present significant challenges. “In a natural disaster, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, affected areas are cut off from the outside world for a relatively short period of time before victims can be transported out and assistance can begin to flow in,” he said. “In an epidemic or pandemic situation, public health authorities may try to enforce community isolation, or quarantine, as the most effective intervention. Very limited amounts of supplies would be able to go in or out of the area for perhaps six weeks or more.” Hammerly said that such a quarantine period would pose many challenges to the operation of health care facilities. “With today’s lean operating margins and just-in-time supply chain techniques, most facilities can’t afford to maintain a six-week stockpile of supplies,” he said. “To do so could consume a facility’s operating margin for an entire year or more. So, for a pandemic, it’s especially important to have a plan that works with others in the community to share and distribute resources.” In addition, in a pandemic, infection rates for health care employees could reach 30 to 40 percent. “This would mean that health care facilities would run short-staffed for weeks,” said Hammerly. “It’s important to have a plan for effectively redeploying the employees and volunteers who would be able to work.” Personal Preparedness Hammerly noted that it is important for all individuals, including Catholic Health Initiatives employees, to be prepared for a disaster on a personal level. “Government agencies are sending this message out to the public, but it’s largely being ignored,” he said. “A pandemic could mean that individuals would be on their own – with no outside help and no way to obtain basic supplies like food — for six weeks or more. So, it’s a good idea for employees to create disaster kits for their homes with essential supplies. I’m not trying to raise anxiety or be overly pessimistic about things we can’t predict or control. I think of a disaster kit as a form of insurance, something that can help each of us take charge of what is within our control to maintain a sense of well being. And, the better prepared we are individually, the better prepared we will be collectively — as Catholic Health Initiatives — to serve our communities at a time of great need.” To learn more about disaster preparedness, contact Milt Hammerly at milthammerly@catholichealth.net, or visit the Disaster Preparedness Community page on Inside CHI, Catholic Health Initiatives’ intranet. The page includes links to resources that can provide more information about personal and workplace preparedness.