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Emergency Preparedness

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Hospitals invest all year long in emergency preparedness

Special to Medical Journal – Houston By Dan Stult z, M.D., President/CEO, Texas Hospital Association

Texas hospitals know the importance of being prepared for potentially catastrophic storms, and they prepare all year by making significant investments in training and capital improvement projects to ensure their communities’ safety.

In 2005, Texas hospitals and healthcare systems played an important role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and three weeks later, Hurricane Rita’s 120 mph winds wreaked havoc on the Texas Gulf Coast. Three short years later, Hurricane Ike blasted the Galveston area, wiping out one of only three Level 1 trauma centers in the Houston-Galveston region and closing one-third of Texas’ burn centers for over a year. Those three storms taught eme r g e n c y management coordinators around the country the impor t anc e of being prepared and the necessary steps to protect patients before and after the storm. Often, these steps require a significant investment from the hospital.

CHRISTUS Hospital - St. Elizabeth in Beaumont went through a series of efforts to prepare its structure for a storm of Hurricane Ike’s magnitude following Hurricane Rita. According to Pat Briggs, regional director for CHRISTUS Health Southeast Texas Region, the hospital added several upgrades to ensure the continuity of care in the event of a disaster. Public funding from the Hospital Preparedness Program aided the installation of a flood mitigation system, but the hospital also invested $500,000 of its own money for hurricane-strength protective window film.

“It was a significant post Rita internal investment, but it saved us from property loss and damage from Ike,” Briggs said.

Briggs also noted the importance of being able to serve the community as a fully functioning hospital at the height of a storm.

“You’re almost like a city within a city that is still functioning while the rest of the city is still down.”

Allen Johnson, executive director of emergency services for HCA’s Gulf Coast Division, which includes 10 hospitals from Brownsville to Conroe, talked about their system’s investment in 12 generators mounted on semitrailers, which provide mobility for their backup power strategy. The generators cost HCA approximately $70,000 per month, an amount that does not include actual usage. This is but one of the many often unseen, yet vital, investments Texas hospitals make every year to keep patients and their communities safe.

T e x a s hospitals also make hefty investment s in staff training and certifications.

T h e s e include nonsurge zone h o s p i t a l s , which drill and train annually for any number of disaster possibilities from tornadoes to hazardous materials spills. Jorie Klein, director of Parkland Health System’s trauma and disaster programs, said they spend approximately $250,000 annually on disaster planning just to prepare for an “all hazards” approach to emergency preparedness.

“If you’re going to prepare, you have to do that,” Klein said, noting that some of the costs address capital equipment investments as well as training and certifications. “The disaster training is the same as having an insurance policy on your house. If you’re not preparing, it’s not just the hospital that loses. It’s every person in the community.”

Texas hospitals are proud of the approach we have taken to ensure continuity of care in the event of a storm. Although we can never be certain when or where a disaster will strike, we do know that patients will still need care, and Texas hospitals will be there to address their needs in a time of crisis.