Although it is hard to hear about another disaster devastating a community, there is some comfort in knowing that each emergency response is reviewed by all of the organizations involved. This identifies lessons learned in order to improve preparedness in the future. These lessons are then made available for everyone in the country to use to improve planning in their own communities. The better that organizations plan, the lower will be the loss of life, health and property. In recent years two weather disasters severely disrupted major health care systems — the E-5 tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri, and the widespread ice storm of January 2009 that hit Kentucky.
In Joplin 116 people died and hundreds were injured. Over 2,000 structures and 14,000 vehicles were destroyed. Tens of thousands of people were displaced. The St. John’s Regional Medical Center was forced to evacuate 183 patients in an hour and a half. The hospital’s generator was “sucked out” of the building causing five patients on ventilators to die because power was lost. Those at home who were dependent on oxygen also had no electricity.
The ice storm in Kentucky brought disaster to 101 counties and 75 cities. Over 4,900 miles of roads were closed. This made evacuation and transport of needed resources difficult if not impossible. Loss of power affected 770,000 residents and created widespread health care system interruption for those who were in facilities and those at home with specialized medical equipment. Over 7,000 residents sought shelter in 220 shelters. All of these people needed food, water, and sanitary facilities for an extended period of time.
These types of severe weather events could happen here. Would our homes and families be ready? Would our health care facilities and organizations be ready? This is what a new health care coalition is determined to find out. For the past few year representatives from the Emergency Management Agency (EMA), Madison County Hospital and the Madison County-London City Health District, have met to assess each organization’s preparation for specific events and the resources that would be needed. But we realized that we did not have a complete picture of how prepared out private health care organizations were or if they would know how to request help. Do they have plans to evacuate their residents or patients? Do they have a generator that could maintain power to essential medical equipment and a source of fuel? What are the plans if essential personnel are unable to travel to work? Do they have access to additional staffing or qualified medical volunteers? How will they cope with multiple fatalities and injuries? Are there back-up communication systems in place?
These are some of the questions that have driven health care emergency planning.
The Madison County health care coalition had its first meeting early in December 2013 with representatives from the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) including the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the Madison County-London City Health District, Madison County Hospital (MCH), fire and emergency medical services.
Ideally, this group wants to include other health care providers such as the Red Cross, urgent care centers, the coroner’s office, home health care agencies, mental health care providers, long term care facilities, pharmacies, the dialysis center, and other private health care organizations around the county.
Only by working together will our county be able to integrate existing emergency plans, identify current gaps in these plans, and assist each other to improve our overall preparedness. Initially, the coalition plans to meet quarterly. If your organization would like to participate at any level, contact Kellie Schneider, Health Care Coalition Coordinator at (740) 852-4200, ext. 1412 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to contact me.
We never want to believe that the worst will happen to us. Nevertheless, we must prepare to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Pat Lentz, MPH is the Director of Emergency Preparedness at Madison County-London City Health District and can be contacted at email@example.com or (740) 852-3065, ext. 1525.