Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lessons Learned from Hurricane Rita

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, CHRISTUS Health leaders were asked to debrief and share learnings of how we could be better prepared to address hurricanes or other natural disasters going forward.

We witnessed many wonderful examples of our Associates simply doing whatever it took to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ during the hurricanes and afterward. These incredible efforts involved overcoming challenges of nature, bureaucracy and some of our own processes. Therefore, while our memories were still fresh, we took time to look at what we did right and what we could improve upon. The debriefing work also helped us approach our government advocates regarding storm relief efforts and future planning.

To organize their thoughts, leaders were asked to reflect on 11 areas:
1. General hospital operations and community preparedness
2. Evacuation issues, including staff evacuation
3. Before, during and after storm patient care and transfer, and patient tracking
4. HR and staffing issues, including Associate housing
5. Communication: CHRISTUS internal; CHRISTUS entity and governmental; intergovernmental; public safety
6. National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issues
7. Logistics, Materials, Supply and Transportation
8. Financial and Claims: tracking expenses; reimbursement; funding for storm costs; documenting and valuing insurance claims
9. Regulatory issues, including waivers
10. Decision making: authority, leadership at CHRISTUS, local, state and federal levels
11. Public health issues

A hurricane debriefing report was compiled from over 30 sources and comments in an effort to identify commonalities. Based on this report, an extensive planning document that detailed important duties relative to emergency preparedness and the local/regional responsibilities and system responsibilities in response was prepared, and has been very helpful in our ongoing preparations.

We were also able to identify areas that would probably be issues during and after major storms in the future. These included many activities which must be coordinated through other entities (such as state and federal agencies), like transporting patients, power concerns (including securing generators as well as fuel) and transporting necessary supplies to our affected facilities following a storm. In addition, we know that staffing may be a concern, as many of our Associates were ready and willing to come back to work, but unable to return to the area because of blocked or damaged roads. In addition, if the affected area is without power, we must find a way to provide housing, food, etc. to Associates who stay or return immediately following a storm.

In addition, our Risk Management department has also devoted much time to the study of our response to Rita. As a result, we have gathered many resources and materials that have been on hand during the following hurricane seasons and have implemented disaster preparedness training as well as an alert system.

Obviously, in any disaster or large-scale emergency, much of our planning will be rendered ineffective, no matter how well thought-out it may have been. However, it is ultimately the resourcefulness and commitment of our CHRISTUS leaders and Associates that allow us to continue our mission of extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ even under the most difficult circumstances.

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