MO Hospitals Review Highlights Value of Disaster Preparedness

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , May 21, 2012

MHA says the disaster at Mercy Regional underscores the need for ongoing emergency response training, and will shape future hospital response strategies. With an emergency plan in place, Mercy Regional staff had safely evacuated patients to interior hallways before the tornado it, and in the minutes after the tornado left the hospital inoperable staff was planning patient evacuations to nearby hospitals.

"If your building is destroyed there is no plan to pull off the shelf. You have to be comfortable with your staff competencies in how to respond," MHA Vice President David Dillon says. "They felt confident they understood how best to respond within the scope of what an incident command should look like and who should be in charge and who is available and what needs were they going to have."

Other key takeaways identified by MHA as lessons learned include a focus on resources and assets, safety and security, staff, volunteers, and utilities. Dillon says the ongoing training that many hospitals were involved in before the disasters creates an emergency response mechanism that is not unlike muscle memory.

"The more you drill it and deeply learn it, the less you will have to think about it when it comes to engaging in that process," he says. "I don't think anyone, if you haven't been to Joplin, could understand the scope of that disaster. But before that disaster I would suspect the folks in Joplin would never have thought they'd need the extent of training or resources they put aside to deal with it."

"How do you prepare for something that is almost incomprehensible? You do it with repetition and realistic training that gives you as close and bad a scenario as you can envision with the hopes that if that comes along you are as prepared as you can be."

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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