Dealing With Disasters: What Hospitals Will Learn from Hurricane Harvey
25 hospitals evacuated or closed. 12 hospitals running on generator power. 14 hospitals sheltering in place. 31 nursing homes closed. Long-term care facilities evacuating. Staffing shortages and access issues.
Those are the just some of the statistics and stories in the Houston, Texas area in the wake of historic flooding caused by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. Hundreds of patients and their families were affected.
Most medical facilities train regularly to deal with emergencies and disasters, most of them on a significantly smaller scale than the epic flooding caused by Harvey. OSF HealthCare is an 11-hospital system based in Peoria, Illinois with a dedicated team that focuses on preparedness. The team says that is a benefit, and should be an added comfort, to patients, visitors and staff.
Even with ready supplies and a staff that trains regularly, it’s hard to prepare for every scenario – like a 1,000 year flood – so you have to be ready to adapt.
Troy Erbentraut is the Disaster Preparedness Manager for OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, a 629-bed, Level I Trauma Center, and largest hospital in the OSF HealthCare system. He is also the Region Hospital Coordinating Center coordinator for the Illinois Department of Public Health EMS region 2, which cover 17 counties and 25 hospitals in Illinois.
Another goal for his team during any disaster is to make sure the hospital keeps functioning as a hospital. They learn lessons from any disaster – such as Harvey and Katrina, another hurricane whose damage was caused by severe flooding in its wake, and the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri in 2011, making a nearly direct hit on a hospital.
Erbentraut calls himself the “what if” guy who’s always looking to what lies ahead. He knows reopening some of the flooded Houston hospitals will take time and a lot of resources – it isn’t like cleaning a flooded basement. Mold mitigation from all of that water will take time and then licensing agencies have to sign-off. He expects to be discussing – and learning from this – for years to come.
As a disaster preparedness professional, Erbentraut encourages people NOT to self-deploy to a disaster such as Houston. He says he understands people wanting to help, but often those people end up needing resources, such as food and water, or sometimes rescued themselves because they failed to plan properly. He recommends if you really want to help, go with an established organization and have an entry – and exit – plan.