How VITAS Handles Natural Disasters
When faced with a natural disaster, VITAS Healthcare—the nation’s leading hospice care provider—is prepared, armed with a vast array of resources and diligent professionals who deal with life and death on a daily basis.
Even before the current federal disaster preparedness requirements were put in place, VITAS invested in preparing patients, families and employees to facilitate continued patient care before, during and after a natural disaster hits any VITAS location.
“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, on admission each patient is assigned an emergency priority level. Emergency preparedness education is provided and a care plan is developed. Ongoing comprehensive assessments are completed to update the emergency priority level at weekly care planning meetings and to update patient-specific disaster plans that go into play when there is a disaster.
I. When the possibility of a disaster looms, an emergency plan is activated. The core component of this plan is communication. The senior management of the impacted locations come together to prepare. Constant phone communication among the leadership assures that all aspects of disaster planning are covered.
A VITAS “disaster commander” is appointed, who guides staff to speak with patients and families, assess patient needs and make any necessary changes to the plans. Perhaps a home patient will be moved to a facility, or to another family member’s home. VITAS employees come together like an army to make sure they have all the information they need to assure 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
- Their 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
II. When a disaster warning is issued, the channels of communication open up between our 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). Throughout the event, decisions are made based on information from federal 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 assure employee safety.
When field staff can no longer be on the roads, VITAS continues to have phone availability 24/7/365. Our highly trained Telecare® staff monitors patients by phone. Additionally, our digital communication teams update our phone systems and online resources to keep our patients, their families and our employees informed.
III. Once the disaster has passed and it is safe for our staff to be on the road, recovery efforts are put in place quickly and efficiently. From assuring that the patients and families under our care are safe to making decisions about safely accepting and transferring new patients, VITAS has a measured and balanced plan for addressing any post-disaster problems that may arise.
Since we are nationwide and the emergency prioritization process is universal and accessible to all of VITAS, staff in one area can reach out to other VITAS locations across the country to assist as needed, so that our patients continue to receive high-quality care.
At VITAS, We Take Care of Each Other, Too
While assuring 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. As quickly as possible, VITAS returns to its regular, fully staffed routine.
Why Choose VITAS For Your Patients in Disaster-Prone Areas?
Our history of patient care under intense pressure is among the reasons physicians confidently choose VITAS.
Our teams of professionals work under pressure, in crisis mode, on a regular basis. VITAS leadership follows set standards and regulations, while regularly updating our patient-care processes.
As the nation’s leading hospice provider, we have the resources to provide excellent care even when disaster strikes. From redirecting phone calls in impacted areas to transporting supplies using our expansive fleet of HME trucks, VITAS has an uncompromising advantage.
Having set multiple precedents for strong and timely management during crises, including the unprecedented destruction wrought by hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, VITAS delivers what it promises its patients and their families—compassionate, high-quality end-of-life care.