Lessons Learned from the 2005 Hurricane Season

February 1, 2006 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


The need for healthcare facilities to carefully design and thoughtfully execute their disaster plans during crises was underscored by the experiences of healthcare administrators and providers in the Gulf Coast and Florida during the 2005 hurricane season. Although healthcare facilities in these areas were hardest hit by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma late last year, administrators throughout the country are learning from the region's experience. And while the lessons learned will allow facilities to better prepare for next years' hurricane season, they also apply to other types of disasters. In a survey of healthcare administrators affiliated with the national healthcare alliance VHA, Inc., conducted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, more than 68% of emergency department coordinators, 53% of chief executive officers/presidents, and 52% of chief nursing officers said that they would be modifying their disaster plans (see Disaster Plans under Review).

Risk managers should be involved in the development and revision of disaster plans, ensuring that the facility is addressing the numerous issues that affect its ability to continue to provide healthcare to the community it serves during and after a disaster. These issues include the following:

Given the high-profile failures in disaster planning that occurred during the 2005 hurricane season, it is easy to overlook the fact that most acute care patients and nursing home residents survived. Prior to and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast hospital and nursing home administrators evacuated 2,200 patients and 3,800 nursing home residents, as well as 11,000 employees, medical staff members, and city residents.

Flexibility in implementing its disaster plan was central to the successful disaster response at one New Orleans healthcare facility hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. At Tulane University Hospital and Clinic, real-time modifications to the facility's disaster plan during Hurricane Katrina produced exceptional results, allowing caregivers to save the...

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