Recently, I heard a local business owner who had been affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf repeatedly state on a national TV interview that the government’s intervention to address this disaster has been minimal, disorganized and ineffective, often hampering the positive actions of the local inhabitants and volunteers. In essence, he was giving the same advice not only CHRISTUS Health, but others have given when facing disastrous events: Do not wait for the cavalry.
We first heard this cry when we visited New Orleans in 2007 on one of our learning journeys as part of Futures Task Force II. We heard over and over again from the leaders of a local hospital system that they got little helpful assistance in facing the significant negative results of the storm, including the large number of critically ill patients who needed to be evacuated. They, appropriately so, decided they needed to take control of the recovery plan and implement it themselves.
CHRISTUS Health had a similar experience in the Houston flood in 2004, Hurricane Rita in 2006 and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2009. Our plans for evacuating patients, obtaining generators and garnering emergency supplies worked well because we had plans, teams and strategic relationships in place in the affected areas. Local systems that are efficient and effective appear to be easier for us to implement than the government, so we first and foremost rely on our resources and planning.
And unfortunately—but not unexpectedly—we experienced the same in Haiti. To overcome the lack of governmental plans, scores of volunteers have, and continue, to provide the most needed medical care and recovery efforts for those in need.
So what does this tell us as leaders in health care? First, it is imperative to have a well thought out and documented recovery plan in place. Second, these plans should be reviewed and drilled annually. Third, when disasters occur, get as much of the plan implemented as possible before the government intervenes. And fourth, don’t ever forget the leadership imperative: do not wait for the cavalry!