How VITAS Handles Natural Disasters

VITAS excels at caring in times of crisis and calm. Learn how.

When faced with a natural disaster, VITAS Healthcare—the nation’s leading hospice care provider—is prepared with a vast array of resources and diligent professionals who deal with life and death on a daily basis. Long before the federal government adopted disaster preparedness requirements for Medicare and Medicaid healthcare providers in 2016, VITAS was deeply invested in providing ongoing care and support to patients, families, and employees before, during, and after a natural disaster hits any VITAS location.

In the face of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfires, and pandemics, our on-the-ground care teams and hospice leaders ensure that VITAS patients, their families, and our communities receive the care, help, and support they need to survive and recover from a natural disaster. 

Related: How to Plan for a Disaster with a Hospice Patient at Home

“Patient care does not stop because of flooding, storms, fires, or other disasters,” says VITAS Vice President of Operations Jennifer Nygaard. “In fact, disaster often increases the need for healthcare services, both in home settings and in facilities, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and assisted living facilities.

“We follow a strict set of standards, policies, and procedures to ensure that, amid changing weather and other challenges, we remain focused on meeting the needs of our patients, their families, and our staff.”

Communication Is Key

As standard practice, each patient is assigned an emergency priority level when they are admitted to VITAS for hospice care. VITAS develops an individualized care plan and educates patients and caregivers on emergency preparedness.

During weekly care planning meetings, VITAS care teams rely on comprehensive assessments to update each patient’s emergency priority level and to update patient-specific disaster plans.

Three different scenarios determine when and how VITAS executes disaster plans: when a disaster looms, when a warning is issued, and after the disaster passes.

When the Possibility of a Disaster Looms

VITAS activates an emergency plan that is built on communication. Senior managers of the impacted locations and VITAS executive leaders meet to prepare and stay in touch via phone communication to ensure that all aspects of disaster planning are covered.

A VITAS “disaster commander” guides staff to speak with patients and families, assess patient needs, and make any necessary changes to the plans. As an example: a patient receiving hospice care at home might be moved out of harm’s way to a facility or to another family member’s home.

VITAS employees coordinate and cooperate to make sure they have all the information they need to provide full care of our patients and their families.

To ensure communication when the disaster plan has been activated, the disaster commander oversees a detailed patient log, which may include:

  • Preparation steps when the location receives advance warning of a pending disaster
  • Whether the patient is evacuating
  • The patient’s location during the event
  • Any medical equipment delivered to the patient that needs service or repair
  • Whether the patient has enough medication, medical supplies, food, etc.
  • Visit needs before, during, and after a disaster

When a Disaster Warning Is Issued

Channels of communication broaden among local leadership, senior management, and leaders of corporate departments (home medical equipment, facilities, IT, clinical operations, pharmacy services, etc., depending on the nature of the disaster) when an official warning is issued. Throughout the event, VITAS makes decisions based on information from federal, state, and local agencies.

While VITAS employees ensure patients and their families are safely housed and equipped, VITAS leadership keeps an eye on local and state guidelines about curfews and instructions about staying off the road, to ensure employee safety.

When field staff can no longer travel, VITAS continues to stay in touch with patients by phone. Our highly trained Telecare® call-center staff is available 24/7/365.

Additionally, VITAS digital communication teams update our phone systems and online resources to keep our patients, their families, and our employees informed.

After the Disaster Passes

Once the disaster has passed and it is safe for our staff to be on the road, recovery efforts begin quickly and efficiently. We ensure that patients and families under our care are safe, and we make decisions about safely accepting and transferring new patients. VITAS has a measured and balanced plan for addressing post-disaster problems that may arise.

With a presence in 15 states and the District of Columbia, VITAS can reposition and temporarily allocate staff members to support VITAS locations throughout the country, both in person and remotely. They can assist as needed so that our patients continue to receive high-quality care.

At VITAS, We Take Care of Each Other, Too

While ensuring patient safety, we also check on our own employees. Those who have sustained damage, need supplies or are otherwise impacted by the disaster receive help. Those who are available for emergency assignments find out where they are most needed. AlertMedia mobile capabilities enable VITAS and its employees to stay in touch via text messaging.

As quickly as possible, VITAS returns to its regular, fully staffed routine.

Why Choose VITAS

U.S. physicians confidently choose VITAS as a hospice provider because of our history of providing patient care under pressure and in difficult circumstances.

Our teams of professionals regularly work in high-pressure, crisis-mode situations. VITAS leadership follows rigorous standards and regulations, while updating our patient-care processes regularly.

As the nation’s leading hospice provider, we have the resources to provide excellent care even when disaster strikes. Whether redirecting phone calls in impacted areas to transporting supplies using our expansive fleet of home medical equipment (HME) trucks, VITAS has an uncompromising advantage.

VITAS is also the first hospice provider to be connected to the AT&T FirstNet broadband network dedicated to public safety (2020). FirstNet ensures that communications between first responders and healthcare workers are prioritized and supported across jurisdictions and on congested networks, enabling quick and easy communication during emergencies.

Having set multiple precedents for strong and timely management during crises, including the unprecedented destruction wrought by hurricanes, wildfires, and floods throughout the US in recent years, VITAS delivers what it promises its patients and their families—compassionate, high-quality end-of-life care.

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