Preparing for the next disaster during the pandemic
This brings us back to the beginning of the disaster preparedness cycle and the need to plan for the next disaster. Current disaster preparedness plans among physician groups and hospitals are likely focused on an individual disaster scenario, but adjusting current disaster plans to account for the uncertain time frame of an event like the COVID-19 pandemic is critical. Several articles in the national news posed similar questions, although these publications focused mainly on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the governmental response to prepare for the next disaster when resources are already stretched.13-15
How do we adequately plan, maintain a dynamic response, and continue to efficiently move through the disaster staffing cycle during an event like the COVID-19 pandemic? Being aware of current vulnerabilities and addressing gaps at the department and hospital level are vital to disaster preparedness. For example, we reassessed disaster (ride-out/relief) teams and the minimum number of staff needed to maintain safe and quality care, and what in-house arrangements would be needed (food, supplies, sleeping arrangements) while having to maintain physical distance.
Newman et al. explain “in disaster planning, having as many physicians as possible on hand may seem like an advantage, but being overstaffed in tight quarters was almost as bad as being understaffed.”9 This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is crucial to have backup plans for faculty that are unable to serve ride-out duties from unexpected issues – such as availability, illnesses/quarantines, childcare/dependents. Also, it is important to be aware that some supply chains are already strained because of the pandemic and how this may play a role in the availability of certain supplies. Being aware and proactive about specific constraints allows for a better level of preparedness. Continued collaboration and communication with other services to provide care should be ongoing throughout the disaster preparedness cycle.
Providing and maintaining optimal and safe patient care should be the overarching goal throughout disaster preparedness. Being aware of group and institutional vulnerabilities, collaboration with hospital leadership, and remaining flexible as hospitalists are critical components for successful preparedness amid disasters. A dynamic and responsive disaster plan has been vital amid COVID-19, and for the next disasters we will certainly encounter.
Dr. Hadvani is assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Uremovich is assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Quinonez is associate professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Lopez is assistant professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Mothner is associate professor of pediatrics in the section of hospital medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and is the pediatric hospital medicine medical director for the main campus.
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