Though none in recent history were as globally devastating as the current COVID-19 pandemic, epidemics and pandemics do, indeed, happen quite frequently compared to some other of mother nature’s destructive habits. The swine flu, for instance, claimed the lives of 12,000 people in 2009, and SARS, just 6 years prior, spread to four continents before being contained.
Again, neither of those scenarios are anything like the COVID pandemic, but nonetheless, a widespread novel disease of any sort means upticks in patients for healthcare locales, and preparation by those sites of care. Here is a closer look at some of the measures hospitals take when preparing for a pandemic.
This term became part of everyone’s daily vocabulary in the last year, and at hospitals, it can be the difference between being a site of care and a site of spread. As infected individuals go to these places for care, sanitization processes need to be amplified during times of infectious disease. Hospitals are already held to extremely high standards for cleanliness, but generally, this centers around equipment and places where operations happen and individuals could be exposed to open wounds or other ailments that require top-notch cleanliness to avoid potentially fatal infections.
During pandemics, however, every inch of a hospital can become a place of infection, and staffing and equipment must be planned out properly to ensure a constant flow of sanitization throughout a given site of care.
In addition to staffing more personnel for cleanliness, the uptick in patients means hospitals need to plan accordingly with caregivers, as well. During the COVID pandemic, healthcare workers were properly and deservedly touted as heroes, but a silver lining was that there certainly was no shortage of work for nurses and other providers.
So what can hospitals do to better prepare? Communicate. But how, you might ask.
One of the ways is by “establishing an ongoing hospital emergency preparedness committee,” says Karen Schechter, Director and Assistant Professor in the Online Healthcare Management and Health Administration Programs at Maryville University. “The committee should include senior administrators, as well as representatives from clinical and support departments to develop and maintain communication protocols within the hospital departments, management, and staff.”
Another area that can help with personnel is advancements in machine learning related to staffing technology have proven extremely helpful in predicting when surges would come and ultimately allowing for hospitals to staff accordingly.
Many infectious diseases affect certain populations more or worse than others, and the COVID-19 virus, for instance, was particularly devastating to the elderly community. Though these kinds of statistics can be difficult to determine with a novel disease, utilizing professional predictions regarding groups of people who may be more or less susceptible to a disease can be weighed against the demographics that a given hospital serves, allowing them to determine how much of their community may be vulnerable.
The current pandemic is a prime example that some things simply can’t be fully prepared for, but having a staff that is ready for the unexpected is a very achievable task with a little work and a lot of enthusiasm. Training related to pandemic responses can be a bit mundane, especially after a decade-long gap between pandemics like the world saw after the Swine Flu, but at least for the next couple of years, staff should be full attention to the importance of swift pandemic response training.
Another form of training, ensuring that your team is familiar with a variety of tasks outside of their normal daily responsibilities means more qualified individuals when a pandemic (or another natural disaster) causes the need for a shift in focus. During the COVID pandemic, for instance (again), nurses from every walk of hospital life were being pulled into the pandemic response teams. Qualification manuals are recommended to ensure a solid depth of understanding is learned from spending some time listening to individuals who do other jobs, and as a bonus, this can lead to familiarity outside of your work circle, and even camaraderie that can prove important in high-pressure situations.
Hopefully, the next pandemic is far off in the distance, but a silver lining of the current one is that it will be fresh in the minds of hospital staff for many years to come, and when the next pandemic strikes, the response should be even better than it was for COVID.