South Florida Hospital News
Sunday May 26, 2019
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June 2007 - Volume 3 - Issue 12

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Weathering the Storm

For healthcare, approaching hurricanes change plans but not priorities. The number one priority remains patient care. To accomplish this, it is important to support staff during and after the storm. From the historic hurricane season of 2005 and 2006, the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center considered lessons learned and developed a strong Family Support Program to activate based on the storm situation at hand.

The purpose of the program is to provide shelter for the immediate family members of staff working through the storm. Knowing families are close-by reduces staff stress and strengthens the quality of patient care.

Participation in the Family Support Program is voluntary. During Hurricane Awareness Month each year, information about the Family Support Program is distributed to all staff. Policies and procedures are shared with new staff in New Employee Orientation. Program information includes a checklist of items family members are required to bring with them to the Medical Center to sustain independence while Medical Center resources are dedicated to staff and patient support.

Information Resource Management, the Medical Centerís IT department, developed a database used to plan storm staffing and provide family member demographics used to plan appropriate use of space. All staff enter personal contact information and staff participating in the program enter information such as family memberís names, ages, special needs, and designated child care provider to supervise children while the parent(s) are on duty.

As the Medical Center moves into the final stages of hurricane readiness, Service Chiefs plan staffing. Staff confirms family member participation or the familiesí decisions to remain at home, evacuate or report to a local shelter. From the database, staff are provided armbands for family members to wear while in the Medical Center. Staff scheduled to work during the storm report for duty at a pre-designated time. Accompanying family members show their armbands at the Family Support Registration Desk and receive a room or area assignment.

Rooms and areas are assigned based on the ages of family members, placing toddlers, teenagers and elderly parents together as much as possible. Rooms are monitored by Medical Center Social Services staff specifically trained to support the program. For safety, family members must sign in and sign out of assigned areas and follow the instructions provided by the room monitor. Room monitors are equipped with radios as alternate means of communication to the Family Support Program Leader and Medical Center Emergency Operations Center. Staff volunteers coordinate activities for children and family members are kept abreast of storm conditions through radios and TVs.

Staff can visit with family during break times and after duty hours. To sustain their well-being and ensure proper rest, staff is assigned to sleep rooms in pre-determined "Quiet Zones" of the Medical Center. Staff rest well knowing their family is safe and near by.

Hurricanes Jean and Wilma resulted in significant, wide spread damage to the community and provided another opportunity for program improvement. After the storms, staff wanted to return to the normalcy of a work routine but most schools and day care centers were closed. Staff developed a Family Assistance Program to harbor children while parents provided patient care. Staff using the program provided snacks, toys, diapers, and other supplies to support their childís needs. Staff volunteered to coordinate activities and monitor the children until families could develop another plan or schools and day care centers returned to normal operations.

With each storm, VA Medical Center management has incorporated lessons learned and improved the Family Support and Family Assistance programs. Staff, reassured that family is safe and nearby, can focus on reassuring patients and providing quality patient care to our nationís heroes.

Kathy Frazier, is Occupational Safety & Health Manager for the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center, can be reached at (561) 422-8237.
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