South Florida Hospital News
Wednesday November 20, 2019
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June 2009 - Volume 5 - Issue 12

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Hospital Consortium Promotes Hurricane Preparedness

As one of the most populous and hurricane-prone regions in the United States, South Florida has weathered many deadly and destructive storms. Frances, Ivan and Andrew left devastation and broken lives, but along with that, they taught important lessons and produced in the affected communities a strongly positive result – a renewed community spirit and a resolve to be as prepared as possible for future disasters.

Nowhere is this spirit and resolve more evident than in the work of the Miami Dade County Hospital Preparedness Consortium (MDCHPC). The Consortium, established in 2006 as a program of the Miami Dade County Department of Health with coordinating support by the Health Council of South Florida, serves as a forum for strategic planning and a catalyst for collaboration among Miami Dade County’s 34 hospitals, facilitating advance planning and coordination of resources to help hospitals mount an effective emergency response to disasters. The Consortium has developed an integrated, all-hazards preparedness plan that enables hospitals to meet the many challenges of hurricanes and other disasters. Now, the MDCHPC is urging other organizations, including clinics, dialysis centers, nursing homes and others, to join.

According to Alicia N. Horner, Consortium Coordinator, "We have excellent participation but we want to expand the Consortium. Although our focus has been on hospitals, we are recruiting other facilities and fire and rescue services. Membership provides greater resilience in a disaster; we provide information, standardized training, tools and the shared resources of the entire community. Emergencies are unpredictable and the Consortium is the go-to place for preparedness."

Membership in the Consortium gives healthcare organizations numerous advantages to help them navigate the complexities of preparedness. In addition to protecting the physical structure as much as possible, facilities must have contingency plans for utility disruptions, maintenance of adequate stores of food, supplies and medications and maintenance of security. The possibility of evacuation, and the logistics of safely moving critically ill patients, is a major consideration. "Readiness," says Horner, "means not being caught off guard. Through the Consortium, hospitals help each other. They share experiences and best practices and can leverage resources among each other. They have a unified voice and can make requests of the state as a group. A group gets more attention and better responses."

Clearly, hospitals have exceptional importance in preparedness. As vital community resources they play a critical role in disasters, but while responding to the emergency and a possible influx of injured people, they must continue operations, protecting and caring for patients under difficult conditions. Managing both roles requires enormous preparation and planning. While this is a daunting challenge, the task is eased by the nexus of support the Consortium provides.

"In 2006, when the Consortium was founded, Dr. Lillian Rivera of the Department of Health encouraged all the hospitals to come together," Horner says. "Things are easier when you have relationships. The hospitals are now in closer contact with each other and the health department. There’s a coordinator there to help them, to link them to the resources they need. When you call, you’re dealing with a person you know, not a bureaucracy."

In the event of a hurricane, the Consortium links everyone through conference calls at the MDC Emergency Operations Center (EOC). "The EOC is the nerve center," Horner says. "We get information to the designated contact people at each hospital and ask each hospital what their needs are. Defining needs is the priority in a hurricane. They keep us informed of what’s going on; if a generator goes down, we know within minutes. We aren’t here to tell hospitals what to do; we are a place for them to share and help each other. We hear what the needs are so that we can help meet those needs."

Care of the staff is a critical element in preparedness. Jersey Garcia of the Health Council of South Florida says that while preparation on a professional level is paramount, the personal needs of staff can’t be overlooked. "Staff will perform better in a disaster when they know that they’re safe and that their homes and families are safe. They’re going to work long hours under stressful conditions; attention to their needs has to be part of the plan. We’ve found that hospitals really care about the impact on the staff."

The Consortium has fostered a strong community spirit. "There is much collaboration with community partners," Horner states. "We’ve created partnerships and liaisons throughout the community, and it’s wonderful to see them together sharing ideas. It strengthens bonds and promotes partnerships that ensure a coordinated response."

No matter what type of disaster, preparedness is the key that can minimize damage and losses and help prevent the development of the horrendous conditions that occurred in New Orleans hospitals in the Katrina disaster, shocking the nation. While preparation can’t prevent disasters from happening, it can mitigate the consequences and promote a faster, more successful recovery process. Preparedness, says Horner, means having a plan, exercising that plan and developing it through drills, simulations and practice. South Florida hospitals are empowered through planning, thanks to the efforts of the Miami Dade County Hospital Preparedness Consortium.

For more information or to inquire about membership, visit www.mdchospitals.org. To contact Alicia Horner, call (305) 470-6838 or send e-mail to Alicia_Horner@doh.state.fl.us. To contact Jersey Garcia, call (305) 592-1452 ext. 106 or send e-mail to jgarcia@healthcouncil.org.
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