A Hurricane’s Aftermath

Plan for a Disaster, but Plan Just as Much for What Comes After

Just as Houston started its difficult recovery from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma has already taken our focus from that story to another major storm that has already decimated parts of the Caribbean, and threatens the nation’s southeast region.

And while the news tends to focus on the most visible effects — damages to property and the costs to rebuild, the reality is that for storm victims the aftermath, and the process to return to normalcy, could take weeks, months, or even years.

While first-responders, hospitals, shelters and local governents have plans for such emergencies and providing the first tier of immediate needs, that is not always the case for the critical set of services and providers that come into play long after the storm has passed.

This is especially important for healthcare services such as health plans and insurance providers, which often play a key role in helping disaster victims access critical services to help their recovery. Without proper planning, such tragedies can press these businesses to the limits of their capacity as they try to serve the increased medical and emotional needs of families and individuals in crisis.

As a manager of healthcare provider, making sure your service is able to navigate such emergencies requires thinking through the small things that become much more important when disaster strikes.

These are a few key things to consider when planning for the worst events that might impact the communities who rely on you.

Be Available

In an evacuation scenario, people will likely access needed health care at locations both outside of their comfort zone and outside of their networks. Key information such as insurance cards may also be left behind, and access to mobile and online resources may be unreliable. That means reaching insurance providers by phone, often in hours that may be earlier or later than normal operating hours. Providers, in their emergency planning, need to consider staffing options to ensure client access at extended hours.

Have a Staffing Plan

In instances when providers are based in the same communities they serve, key staff may also be among those affected by an emergency. In your planning, ask key questions of management and staff: “Who lives nearest to the office? Who drives SUV’s and may be better equipped to travel? Who can tele-commute? What is the best staffing pattern to cover both essential needs and a demand that might increase dramatically over a period of a few days or weeks?

Coordinate with Pharmacies

In the rush to collect important papers, or save photos and pets, many evacuees can forget to pack medicines or the information needed to fill prescriptions. Likewise, pharmacies - particularly those in supermarkets — can be vulnerable, and thus, unavailable. Increasingly smart pharmacies are developing mobile units capable of dispensing needed supplies of prescription and over-the counter-items. Consider partnering with local pharmacies and city managers to make sure these kinds of units, or other alternatives, are available in the communities you serve.

Have a Back-Up Source for Data

The same breaks in service that impact victims and evacuees can impact healthcare providers who fail to plan accordingly, yet access to client records and other data is critical to continuity of care. Many providers, by law or contract, have backups to data, but coordination with local utilities and emergency managers to ensure your facilities are on a priority list for service is vital.

Compassion

The operative word in “healthcare” is “care”.

Clients and patients may be reaching out primarily for health needs, but in the stress of an emergency, care begins with consideration of other non-health concerns, such as the stress that can exacerbate other issues. Consider building partnerships with community organizations that provide related needs, and be prepared to provide referrals to sources for food, clothing, faith services, mental health counseling or other needs. If feasible, consider using your own wellness centers or corporate facilities as staging areas for collection or distribution of emergency goods.