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The Hospitals Will Be Full, But With Whom?

May 31, 2007

EmptyHospital We all plan for disaster based upon those resources we can identify and count.  We assume that barring the worst case scenario we will have those tools that we need – tables, chairs, computers, prophylaxis.  We also plan for those worst case scenarios, though, and create back-up caches of our most vital equipment, back-up procedures and back-up sites.  Should that worst case scenario actually happen, we’ll be able to show up to work and, while it won’t be the prettiest or most effective way of working, we will still be able to accomplish a thing or two and implement our plans.

Even that, though, is dependent on an assumption – that we’ll show up to work.  And that’s a mighty big assumption.

According to researchers at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, MI and Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia that assumption might be one in which we critically overestimate.  The St. John study found that only 50% of the 178 surveyed health care workers would definitely report to work as usual.  Another 42% said that they might report, and 8% flat out refused to report.  The main reason why not to come to work was cited as a lack of confidence that the hospital could protect the workers.  The Temple study found something similar.  Safety during commute and while working is the main barrier to workers declaring that they would work during a disaster.

Now that we know this, think about your situation.  Is there a plan to transport health care workers to and from hospitals?  If not, is there a plan to protect employees once they are on campus – not actually in the building, but after parking and fighting their way to the entrance?  Are we confident that there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) in the hospital so that employees won’t be given to hoarding or fear running out?  We’ve already heard that ventilators and beds will be in short supply; are we willing to bet our staffing levels that our employees will be confident in our PPE stocks?  Furthermore, are we prepared for each of these questions in all situations?  A short-lived bioterror attack would assuredly tax our system, but what about a protracted event such as pandemic influenza?  As the pandemic progresses and drags on, we can expect the public to become more desperate, possibly necessitating the need for heightened levels of transport security for health care workers.

Health care workers are the backbone of our preparations, without them all of our myriad plans will be for naught.

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