Healthcare Coalitions: Protecting Patients from Predictable Surprises

Healthcare Coalitions: Protecting Patients from Predictable Surprises

December 4, 2017

December 4, 2017 - It can be hard coming back to the office after the Thanksgiving holiday. This year, the opportunity to join 1,200 healthcare colleagues from all over the country to talk all things preparedness and response at the National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference (NHCPC) after the holiday made the first week back during the holiday season not just informative, but memorable as well.

The NHCPC is an ‘opportunity for coalitions to connect and share their successes and lessons learned.’ In any year, a conference that brings together public health officials, healthcare providers, and emergency managers is a valuable one. But I think it goes without saying that the events of this year rendered the conference an invaluable convening. While breakout sessions imparted technical knowledge and policy guidance on a range of topics, from cybersecurity to the CMS Emergency Preparedness Rule, what resonated most strongly with me, and what I know I will be reflecting on for years to come, were the first-hand accounts plenary speakers provided. Some of the rhetorical questions speakers posed and particularly thought provoking anecdotes they shared are captured below, as they struck me as too poignant not to share.

In Puerto Rico, health officials learned after Maria had passed that an isolated deaf community did not know a hurricane was coming.

In Las Vegas, a member of the event staff cut off the power to the medical tent in an effort to prevent the shooter from knowing where medical services were being provided, not realizing the impact this could’ve had on patient care.

In Northern California, hospital staff was caring for and evacuating patients during the wildfire, sometimes without knowing if their own families and homes were safe. They were even evacuating patients in personal vehicles, and tracking patients by taking pictures of wristbands with personal mobile devices.

In San Diego, public health officials and hospital staff had to determine how homeless, but medically stable, patients with hepatitis A should be discharged.

These experiences, and those of countless other providers, responders, and decision-makers, as well as the experiences I had this year during Healthcare Ready’s activation, drove home for me that, try as we might, we cannot plan for everything. We simply cannot plan for every consequence of an event. And that is okay.

Healthcare, public health, and emergency management are not asked to plan for everything. In so many ways, that would be counterproductive. Rather, they’re tasked with knowing the risks and hazards facing them and addressing these to the best of their ability and resources. As those in the field would agree, at a certain point in preparedness, it comes down to more intangible measurements – that you know who to call, or you know someone who has experienced a similar challenge and can provide guidance when you need it. The NHCPC is worthwhile because it enables folks to do just that. In an age of conference calls, video chats, and dozens of other means of meeting virtually, there is something to be said for meeting face-to-face and hearing first-hand accounts in person, especially in the preparedness field.

One of the closing slides of the conference highlighted the impact of coalitions this year and featured a collage of headlines from the events referenced above, with most touting the impact of ‘hospitals,’ ‘trauma centers,’ and ‘health departments.’ The work of coalitions, though literally life-saving, is rarely called out by name. But in making sure healthcare is ready for “predictable surprises,” as one presenter handily labeled disasters, coalitions are a critical player and I was thrilled to be able to learn from them last week, and look forward to collaborating with them even more in the future.

Sarah Baker, MPP

Sarah Baker is the Programs Manager at Healthcare Ready. In this capacity, she leads the policy development, research, and programmatic efforts to the organization's preparedness initiatives. Prior to joining Healthcare Ready, Sarah served as a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of private sector organizations, during which time she supported the design, conduct, and evaluation of scores of preparedness exercises. Sarah received her Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and holds a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.