With the start of Hurricane season, we are reminded yet again of the importance of emergency preparedness for the home health sector. While hospitals and shelters help to protect many individuals in the event of a natural disaster, homebound patients often continue to rely on their home health providers to deliver the care they need before, during and after a disaster.
To help ensure patient safety and continuity of care throughout an emergency situation, home health agencies develop a preparation and response system for its staff to implement in the event that tragedy occurs.
Emergency planning starts the day a patient joins a home healthcare network. Most home healthcare providers have systems and practices in place that work to protection patients and their caregivers alike.
Once a patient enters the home health continuum, he or she is assigned a disaster classification code based on his or her condition and needs. These codes are updated regularly and allow the home health agency to prioritize care during emergencies.
For a natural disaster with warning, like a hurricane, home health agencies will start preparing patients in the days leading up to the storm. Each home health aide and manager will contact his or her patients to ensure that they will be safe during the storm, or relocated to their nearest family member or emergency contact’s home if needed.
If a patient must stay at home, their home health providers will make sure he or she has medication, medical equipment, food, and water to keep them comfortable and safe. In some cases, home health providers will even stay with patients throughout the storm or disaster. Providers will also notify the authorities about their patients and contact power companies in the event that a patient relies on electricity for a piece of medical equipment, such as a ventilator. The goal is always to ensure that the patient’s healthcare is never at risk.
Once a disaster has hit, home health providers immediately start their recovery efforts. Within 24 hours, on-call nurses will attempt to visit all patients in the affected area, starting with the highest acuity patients. Home health providers will often work with the authorities to locate and care for their patients as quickly as possible.
Natural disasters are unpredictable and potentially devastating, particularly for home health patients with physical restrictions and health concerns. Home health professionals go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that their patients remain healthy and safe, but real security is derived from the extensive emergency preparedness and planning that takes place before events even occur.