Seven of the eight episodes of 5 Days at Memorial have aired and thus far it stays true to Sheri Fink’s book of the same name. So far, the Apple TV series has gotten five things that may be relevant to us absolutely correct. I recommend that you all watch the series or read the book and then talk about it in your next Emergency Preparedness table meeting.
- A strong leader from your organization must be chosen before a life threatening emergency occurs because regardless of what you have done, a strong leader will assume authority. It would be in everyone’s best interest if you approved of the person. At Memorial, Anna Pou, an EMT assumed control for both Memorial and Life Care which was an LTAC leasing space from Memorial hospital. Do you really want a doctor you don’t know or who has no affiliation with your agency running your show?
- If you are fortunate to have ample warning of a natural disaster, encourage your patients to move. Move them out of your service area if that’s what it takes. Lose money if necessary. For the sake of comparison, I had an LTAC client that leased space on the top floor of a building across the street from Memorial. Prior to the storm, they moved patients to Baton Rouge. It was expensive and most inconvenient but everyone was safe.
- Communication sucks before, during and after a disaster. There is no other way to state that in a ladylike or professional manner. As soon as there is an inkling of a possibility of a disaster on its way, the employees need to call the patients and families and find out where they might be should they evacuate. Although this information is part of the admission process, things change. For weeks after Katrina, we were getting emails from people looking for relatives and loved ones.
- Plans fail. Katrina was likely a category two storm when it hit New Orleans down from Category 4 or 5 while it churned in the Gulf. Everyone was fine the next day. It was around mid morning when the first trickles of water from a breached levee started to flood the street. A city prepared for a storm ended up suffering from some of the worst flooding in history. The generators in place to maintain power were under water. Focus on keeping your patients foremost in your plan and don’t try to anticipate how a disaster will evolve.
- Even though plans fail, it is important to have one. If you work for an agency or hospice provider, be available if there’s any way possible. Know what the plan is and if you are knocked off course by an unforeseeable event, at least you will know where you should be and can work to get back on track.
Many of you are wondering why I am stating the obvious. It’s because many people don’t learn. Last year, Hurricane Ida hit and one nursing home owner, Bob Dean, thought it would be a good idea to warehouse almost 800 people in a warehouse. It flooded and the patients were moved to a dryer area. Most patients were side by side on wet mattresses that were touching with no room for nurses to get through. Eight people died as a direct result and more died in the following weeks. It is impossible to care for 800 elderly patients in a dark warehouse with no electricity or running water. Bob Dean felt he was treated unfairly when his licenses were revoked. When that was largely rejected by the public he went on to say that he suffered from temporary Dementia. He thinks his licenses should be restored. Maybe if he hadn’t been visiting friends in the cool dry climate of Connecticut and been out to the unsanitary (to be kind) warehouse, he would have a different opinion.
When we live through a once in a lifetime event, we tend to believe that it is just that – once in a lifetime. These unimaginable events are exactly that – beyond the scope of our imaginations. All we need to keep in mind is that bad things happen and our patients come first.