Not an 'if' but a 'when': Emergency preparedness lessons from COVID-19

Not an 'if' but a 'when': Emergency preparedness lessons from COVID-19

September 28, 2020

Another way to improve resource management is through boosting the technology infrastructure, including robust telehealth and remote work capabilities. These steps will ensure business continuity during a crisis and give clinicians ways to connect with patients at home while reducing the need for live interaction and use of PPE.

Create increased flexibility
The next surge - whether COVID-19 or something new - will come. Flexibility may be the key to future surge response. While options and plans need to be tailored to each institution or site, here are some ideas to consider based on lessons learned:

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• Assure a flexible, but robust, communication structure for use during surge events. This structure should be easily embedded in the incident command response once a decision is made to activate a command center, but flexible enough to assure daily use when the command center is closed.

• Develop options to enable a quicker expansion or conversion to support defined patient care spaces and the required staffing. These alternative care areas may include converting or repurposing existing space into temporary critical care areas or using temporary external structures as we have seen during COVID-19. Alternative staffing models also need to be agreed upon to support these possible new care areas.

• Develop plans for rapidly updating staff, including education on new care guidelines and new care area assignments as well as new communication models to ensure staff is aware of PPE guidelines, technology updates and other changes.

• Create room flexibility using carts or rail systems. This can allow for rapid repurposing of rooms to accommodate specific needs.

• Create plans for “clean” and “infectious” corridors to minimize comingling of likely infectious and likely non-infectious patients.

Ultimately, be proactive vs. reactive
The reality is that we have no idea of when the true “end” of the COVID-19 crisis will be. The best response is to be proactive instead of reactive, reflective instead of complacent, and prepare to be more flexible. It is common practice to wait until after a crisis to analyze what worked and what didn’t in an “after action” report. However, organizations should consider the idea of “mid-action” reports to continuously review operation structures and pivot accordingly. When we can finally reflect on the hard-fought battle, each phase will be full of lessons learned that will inform a more prepared, strategic path forward, so that healthcare organizations and those that support them are better suited to respond quickly in the face of a crisis.

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