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Business Continuity and Healthcare

When physical disaster strikes, one of the services most needed is healthcare. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes: each is an example of an event that can turn a community and economy upside down. Even as people find their lives in danger, the usual mechanisms they have to seek help are often unavailable.

You can understand why people in healthcare typically focus on the public and the services they need. However, there is another aspect: the continuity of the healthcare providers. In one view, they also are businesses trying to satisfy customer demands whether times are difficult or easy.

That is a long way of saying that people with an MBA in health administration need to understand business continuity and disaster recovery planning at least as much as an executive in any regular company and possibly more so. How many businesses literally deal with life and death issues?

Proper continuity and recovery planning requires far more than emergency lights and backup generators. For an example, look at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, where some practitioners allegedly decided who would live and die in 2009 as the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina continued to rise. Some patients far too ill to be moved were literally killed, given high doses of morphine.

Just two years ago, hospitals in the Northeast were unprepared for Hurricane Sandy. The potential problems from a hurricane should have become abundantly obvious after Katrina.

Instead of reacting to conditions as they develop, hospitals and other care providers should have taken a deliberative and thorough approach to risk management in advance. For example, Susquehanna Health, an integrated healthcare system in Pennsylvania, took a systemic approach to risk management for the entire operation.

Susquehanna Health began by identifying what were considered to be the key risks to its operations, equipment, staff, patients and technology systems. “Then we assessed and prioritized these risks for resource allocation purposes, based on an enterprise risk management formula developed by Kaiser Permanente that we altered a bit to stress the likelihood of the event occurring,” said James W. Slotterback, Susquehanna Health emergency preparedness coordinator. “For each risk, we plug in a number from zero to three to describe the potential risk likelihood and severity.”

The concept of risk for Susquehanna is a broad one. Hurricanes are on the list of potential issues; so is a bus accident involving injuries of 30 people. The problems are of difference scales, but the organization must be ready whatever the circumstances. Not only has management planned, the entire system undertakes regular drills to test preparedness and learns from new events. Preparations for shootings at the hospital, which a Johns Hopkins 2012 study suggested was less likely than a lightning strike, have now joined the list.

Healthcare managers need to consider how they approach risk to effectively plan for disasters and forces that can completely interrupt their abilities to treat patients. Taking a tip from the private sector and governments, proper planning and practice can help personnel know what to do when trouble comes.

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