Many of the disaster preparedness resources available over the years have been developed for institutional healthcare providers, but home care and hospice workers—and their agencies—need to have working plans as well. These disaster response plans should correspond with state and local laws, regulations, guidelines and standards, most of which can be accessed fairly easily online or through a nearby government office.
Training for employees and independent contractors is key to success. Unfortunately, success really only gets measured after a disaster has occurred, which makes benchmarking preparedness difficult. The fact is, you need a program that provides initial training, spot checks, periodic testing to see where weaknesses lie or have arisen, refresher education, and a reward/penalty system associated with reviews and enforcement. While this is a dedicated expense in an industry that already operates on restricted margins, it is an investment in your employees, your clients and your financial stability in the long run.
How does disaster response training play into long-term financial stability? First, it may prevent expensive liability judgments against your agency in the case a catastrophe does strike. Showing that your home care and hospice employees were trained and competent in emergency response can help you defend against claims of negligence and wrongdoing in a disaster situation should they occur. Second, competence in catastrophe response can prevent employee injury and, thereby, reduce your vulnerability to Workers’ Compensation claims.
While home care workers face the potential for numerous calamities in the home (see our blog on the culture of safety), there are other external events that unfortunately cannot be prevented by agency and provider due diligence. Events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, fires, terrorism, riots and acts of war are some examples. Though some of these may seem highly unlikely, home care and hospice providers who are trained on appropriate responses will have a greater chance of handling the event well, with the priority of keeping patients safe and getting the proper assistance.
In some disaster events, evacuation is required. Moving patients that are connected to and dependent on medical devices may be a multi-person job or may require special training. If your employees are giving care to someone in this situation, a clear plan of action is necessary. Repeated, hands-on training creates muscle memory so response is somewhat ingrained. Book learning, lectures and videos are no substitute for practice. Additionally, your agency’s home caregivers need to know evacuation routes, how to get aid as needed, where to go in an emergency and how to report in. Patients who have to be removed from their homes might become agitated; an appropriate course of action should already be in the response plan.
When evacuation is not an option or not the best measure, the value of an initial home-site evaluation becomes clear. That review, done before home healthcare is ever initiated, provides the on-site worker with a clear map of the home, identifying the best options for shelter-in-place measures.
Home care providers are often the best resources after a disaster as well. Agencies typically have records of patients’ doctors, history, family members and other vital data, and treating home care clinicians may be the only ones who have up-to-date information on patients’ mental and physical well-being. Home care providers and agencies are often also deeply embedded in the community they serve, making them essential elements in the larger health-service response.
Additionally, home care workers can provide a crucial post-disaster disease-prevention role. Especially in flood and storm events, home aides can assist in making sure cleanup in the home has been done properly, that no vermin or insects have invaded, and that enhanced germ control practices continue for an extended period after the disaster. Home health aides may even interface with local authorities and utility companies in cases where there are potential service disruptions so the particular needs of patients—for example, those who need a generator—can be met.
The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) has a fairly comprehensive emergency preparedness packet that can help your home care agency respond to disasters. And Manchester Specialty Programs offers risk management and loss control services that can help you develop broad-spectrum risk-mitigation measures.
At Manchester Specialty Programs, our comprehensive home health care industry insurance program includes a wide range of insurance solutions. We have a long-term commitment to insuring the home health care industry, having begun to address the special insurance needs of this sector more than two decades ago. We can help home care & hospice agencies and their insurance brokers navigate the coverage needs of a home health care business and find the best fit for insurance coverage. For more information about our programs and coverages, you or your local insurance agent can contact us today at 855.972.9399.