The 2020 hurricane season threatens to put further strain on healthcare organizations already reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Analysts are forecasting this year’s Atlantic hurricane season activity to be above normal. Indeed, the first tropical storm arrived a full two weeks earlier than the official beginning of the season on June 1st.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities will be especially vulnerable this year. The strain on operational efficiency, high levels of staff fatigue and significant financial downturn are part of the predicted lasting impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system.
It’s critical for leadership to effectively communicate with healthcare workers during times of extreme or inclement weather. These are the steps hospitals and other organizations should take before, during and after an event to minimize risk and protect lives.
1. Before – Be Prepared
Having an effective emergency communication plan during this challenging time is essential to cascade important status updates, provide instructions around evacuation procedures and check on employee welfare.
An inclement weather policy for hospitals should answer common staff questions, such as:
- Should staff attempt to come to work?
- What arrangements should be made if staff become stranded at work? What if they need to stay home and look after dependents?
- How can staff best keep themselves safe?
- Will their job (and pay) be affected?
Follow these key actions to increase preparedness for inclement weather events at your healthcare facility:
- Prepare an emergency communication plan, defining the messages to be sent, the recipients and the coordinators.
- Consider what provisions need to be made due to COVID-19 restrictions around social distancing, remote working, hygiene etc, as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Create a series of pre-configured messages that can be triggered to send instantly. For example, instructions for staff to “Evacuate immediately”.
- Maintain an up-to-date staff contact list to ensure no-one is left out, paying particular attention to any mobile, remote or contract staff.
- Define the communication tree so that it’s clear who’s ultimately responsible for publishing content.
- Ensure your emergency communication plan is available to all employees in advance and make it a compliance requirement that they read it. Promote key messages and remind staff of where resources may be accessed through corporate wallpapers or a series of screensavers.
- Rehearse the communication process so that in the hour of need, any confusion is avoided.
2. During – Be Decisive
When an extreme weather event strikes, healthcare workers need up-to-the-minute information from a single, reliable source that they trust. Managers must be able to communicate with staff effectively, quickly and with guaranteed success.
The following actions will ensure employees are safe, workplaces are protected, and risks are minimized when the worst happens.
- Utilize all available internal communication channels to ‘flood’ your message. Use high-impact Alerts for maximum visibility, but follow these up with SMS, digital signage, social media and other channels to ensure your message gets through.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Message recurrence is recommended to ensure important information gets through if staff are busy or distracted. Make sure to provide clear, simple instructions and include any links to more detailed information, such as on your organization’s intranet.
- Provide status updates through desktop tickers to keep staff informed as situations change. This scrolling newsfeed channel is highly effective at delivering time-sensitive information without being too intrusive.
- Use different colored alert templates to improve message awareness and cut-through. This visual conditioning helps staff immediately understand the nature of the message. For example, red = urgent, blue = important, green = useful.
- Check on staff safety by contacting them with a message which asks them to select Yes or No if they’re safe. Response teams can then filter answers to identify if anyone needs assistance.
Healthcare leaders can see this in action through the real life story of Holiday Inn and how they used communications to maintain a culture of calm during a major storm.
3. After – Be Informed
When the crisis is over, identify what worked well and what needs improving. If history has taught us anything, it’s that there is always a next time. Being organized for it is half the battle.
- Get feedback through an employee survey. Did staff feel they had the correct amount and type of information? Did they feel protected or concerned? Insights from your survey may reveal that the frequency of communications needs to be increased, or that one channel has a higher readership rate, and therefore is more effective, than others.
- Keep your emergency communication plan and staff contact lists up to date. Staff will continue to join and leave, remote locations may open or close, any communications coordinators may move on, taking their knowledge with them. Keeping these assets updated will ensure they’re always current, no staff are overlooked and that plans may be enacted immediately when the need arises next.
Urgency is essential when extreme weather events strike. A comprehensive emergency communications plan will help healthcare organizations be prepared and better able to weather the storm.