There are currently 2,500 rural hospitals in the United States which provides essential care for approximately 17% of the total population. Rural hospitals often have a higher mix of outpatient and home care because they have fewer economic means than those in urban areas. Jack Burke, MS, MBA, spent 44 years in healthcare management and recently sat down with Everbridge to discuss how rural hospitals should approach emergency planning and disaster preparedness.

There are six types of preparedness planning, which fall into two clusters. “There’s the natural group, where the most prominent component is meteorological events. The other major group is the man-made group, whether accidental or intentional, includes everything from terrorism to power outages,” states Burke. To prepare for the breadth of emergencies that could befall your facility, we must first look at what the disaster lifecycle looks like and how to bake it into your preparedness planning. The lifecycle includes preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation. “I like to start in mitigation because that leads to preparedness, to develop plans, and to institute training, which readies you for a response to stabilize the situation and assure life safety. That is followed by recovery,” states Burke.

Healthcare Coalitions and Rural Hospitals

Healthcare coalitions play a significant part in rural hospital management because they facilitate collaboration with external community resources to help the entire population. They help to consolidate thinking around regional needs, and how different organizations can collaborate effectively to help the entirely of the community. “It’s also important to keep in mind what a rural hospital does for a community and what the community expects from the hospital,” says Burke. Every community has an emergency management plan because it resides within a county. Rural hospitals need to align closely with these plans to ensure business continuity and open communications.

Internal and external communications are the most essential part of any operational continuity plan. “Internal constituents include facility staff, patients, and management, but externally you need to consider patient’s families, first responders and law enforcement, and other community stakeholders that will be impacted by operational decisions,” continues Burke. It’s also important to consider if there are other clinical entities in your community and how your hospital will work with them to ensure patient and staff safety in the event of an evacuation, and to ensure sufficient supplies for all community facilities.

Rural Hospital Emergency Preparedness Considerations

FEMA suggests your facility be prepared to sustain itself for 96 hours in the wake of a critical event. “Even the joint commission now has a 96-hour rule which is part of the CMS Rule as well. You should expect to be on your own for 96 hours minimum,” warns Burke. Looking at everything from medicine, cots, and equipment to supplies like food, and water are imperative to evaluate and stockpile appropriately. Using community resources will also be useful in stockpiling supplies.

Hazard Vulnerability Assessments are an additional resource you should use to gauge the probability of an event to occur, as well as the potential severity. It’s important to address the likelihood of damage sustained through a potential event, so you can prepare for disruption or discontinuation of service. “Anticipate, simulate, and communicate;” rhymes Burke, “figure out what your general risks are based on your location and your facility type, including the characteristics of your facility.” It’s important to focus on the likelihood of an event occurring, prepare for high-probability, high severity incidents first, then tier preparation efforts from there.

To learn more about the recommendations Jack Burke has specifically for rural hospitals, including how to run table-top and full-scale drills and considering evacuations, you may view our complimentary on-demand webinar. We also invite you to our test site, Everbridge General Hospital, where you can simulate events, launch templates, and see responses in real-time.