One of the hardest things about dealing with any natural disaster, especially a fire, is that no one knows what direction it will take. As with most disasters, the Thomas Fire was unpredictable. The key to maintaining non-stop, high quality care during a crisis depends on these key areas:
Planning: preparation, drills and simulations conducted with staff, key suppliers and community partners over the last many months allowed the system to perform under the most stressful of circumstances. This included organizing, make quick decisions, along with coordinating and implementing the plans in place.
Communication: the morning after the fire broke out—facing critical supply shortages, especially facemasks—the CEO of the system personally called his Medline Representative to order more masks, air purifiers and other critical supplies. And although the smoke and high number of emergency vehicles made the roads to and from the hospital almost impassable, Medline’s trucks got through. By mid-afternoon, we had delivered not only our own products but parcels from FedEx and other delivery companies.
Prioritizing care: given that during an emergency, hospitals frequently operate on backup generators, it’s important to prioritize emergency care and ensure your most vulnerable patients are stable. VCMC decided to suspend elective surgeries until the end of the fires in order to ensure those key areas had sufficient resources.
In the aftermath of the fires, VCMC worked with community partners, agencies and suppliers to conduct a debrief and identify opportunities to improve their disaster readiness in the future:
- Enhancing internal communications through current and accurate records
- Improving night staff training by increasing training beyond the day shift
- Identifying multiple areas to manage disaster, instead of just one
While the hope is that these types of disasters are few and far between in a hospital system or community, history has shown that unforeseen events happen. The efficiencies and readiness programs that result out of transparent planning with our customers make it possible for everyone to be prepared—when a disaster hits, no matter what it is—even better than before.