HAP Blog

Don’t Let Staff Shortages Undermine Your Emergency Preparedness

Now is the time to focus on your disaster plans

November 15, 2021

We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and things haven’t always gone according to plan.

Hospitals all over the nation are juggling dozens of challenges at once, with inpatient units near capacity and emergency departments often overcrowded. We’re maintaining everyday operations while trying to stay ahead of a novel virus.

Then, there are the staffing shortages.

Health care facilities are working hard to recruit and retain staff during a challenging labor market. The stopgap solutions—bringing managers and educators back to the bedside and utilizing agency staffing—are the norm for facilities across the country. We know this is a difficult situation, and we all look forward to when things return back to “normal.”

But here’s the hard truth: your facility’s next emergency—whether it’s a fire, a tornado, or an intruder in your hospital lobby—will not wait for you to be fully staffed or for your staff to resemble its pre-pandemic form.

That means now is the time to make sure your team is ready.

The key questions

Hospital personnel work throughout the year to plan, prepare, and conduct exercises for disasters. It’s a year-round priority, and many of your longtime staff are familiar with the drill. But what happens when a large portion of your trained staff are unavailable?

Our hospital floors have plenty of new faces, as workers retire or transition into new roles. COVID-19 guidelines have added another consideration, as some of your staff may be unavailable due to quarantine. In their place, managers, educators, and agency staff are working hard to fill the void, but we need to make sure they have all the essential information.

When it comes to new staff, here are some of the key questions your emergency managers should be asking:

  • Is your staff able to respond to a disaster, natural or man-made, in the same fashion as the staff who worked during pre-COVID-19 times?
  • For an active intruder in the emergency room, does your staff know where the lockdown button is located to shut down further access to the facility?
  • For a fire on the unit, are they aware of where the smoke and fire barriers are on the unit and where they would possibly have to move their patients to safety?
  • For any other disaster, do they know the correct code to call overhead or the common language to announce the situation to others?

In this ever-changing scenario of COVID surges, staffing challenges, and everyday disasters, don’t allow your emergency preparedness to fall from your priority list.

What you can do

Your emergency preparations matter more than ever, and it’s important to adjust your pre-COVID disaster plans to our new reality. Despite the fatigue we all feel, we know we must stay prepared and ensure our staff are ready to implement mitigation measures in a matter of seconds.

This means your team should be:

  • Emphasizing communication:  Many facilities have instituted practices of high-reliability institutions that allow managers and staff to stay in constant communication and identify safety issues
  • Taking time to assess:  Deploying briefs, debriefs, huddles, and leadership patient safety rounding are important strategies to understand the state of safety and awareness in your facility
  • Onboarding new staff:  Understand that the pre-COVID training protocols still matter, and that your new staff must know what to do in the event of an emergency. Make sure your onboarding staff with all the critical information

We must stay prepared for the high-risk scenarios that could impact our facilities. Being able to identify any gaps in knowledge among your new staff is critical to ensure our hospitals are safe for our patients, our workers, and our communities. Doing this work now will give you peace of mind in knowing that you have prepared for the unexpected.

If you or your team are interested in learning more about disaster preparedness during COVID-19, contact HAP’s Emergency Management Team or HAPevolve for more information.  


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