Even if you spend decades building your reputation, the wrong response to a crisis can destroy it within hours. Crisis response is particularly fraught for healthcare facilities, where safety, lives, and public health hang in the balance.
Crises have a before, a during, and an after stage. The “after” is all about restoring operational continuity, resiliency, and public communication. The majority of the work done to get back to normal happens at this stage. Here are the questions that healthcare facilities need to consider after a crisis occurs.
1. Why Was This A Crisis?
Healthcare facilities are used to handling emergencies. Every time someone enters the ER, it’s an emergency. A crisis, however, is altogether different. A crisis happens either with unprecedented speed or scale, meaning emergency plans and processes don’t work, or might even be counterproductive.
A good first step is assessing why this was a crisis. What was novel about it that made it so catastrophic? For example, a cyber breach could occur that tests the bounds of your entire security system. A pandemic could break out that depletes your supplies more quickly than anyone anticipated.
2. What Was Improvised?
When normal responses don’t work, emergency measures tend to be improvised. Did this start off as a routine emergency, and move into a full-blown crisis? Where did personnel break off from the normal emergency response plans, and improvise a new solution?
If certain teams or departments were particularly impacted, ask them where the breakdown occurred. How did things change over the course of the emergency that derailed routine plans and responses? In many cases, leaders can be slow to realize that a crisis is underway.
3. What Was The Severity Of The Crisis?
On both a community and a national level, you’ll need to understand the severity of the crisis. If you’ve used available mass notification and personnel accountability systems, you’ll have a better understanding of the risks and damages.
Measuring crisis severity requires a period of information gathering from those who were on the ground, and those at leadership levels. Speak with first responders, doctors and nursing staff, facilities personnel, patients, contractors and vendors, and administrators to understand the full scope of the crisis.
4. What Follow-Up Is Required?
The follow-up for an earthquake will be different to the follow-up for an IT outage. The type of crisis will dictate which communication plans are needed. You’ll need to communicate with any involved or tangentially involved parties, in order of their importance.
Consider your communication channels and messaging with some or all of the following:
- First responders
- Media and press
- The surrounding community
- Patients and their families
- On-duty staff
- Off-duty personnel
- Counseling services
- Financial stakeholders
- State and local agencies
5. How Do You Assess The Response?
After an incident, assess how information was routed, which personnel were activated, how much time the response took, and what resources were deployed. To assess the response, you’ll need to understand the situation from all angles, including security, IT, patients, staff, facilities, and leadership.
Were enough employees reached, or do you need more effective alerting and accountability systems? Did redundancies occur? Were there enough automated processes to ensure timely actions? What metrics do you rely on to devise whether each response effort was a success or a failure?
6. What Can Prevent A Similar Crisis In The Future?
Refer to any data logged, and any documentation that was created before and during the crisis. Keep this data in a safe place, and ensure that detailed notes of what happened are recorded. If you’re managing crises from a pen and paper, make sure to print and file it. Consider the benefits of a cloud-based crisis communication system with robust reporting like BlackBerry AtHoc that evolves as the situation does. Through networked crisis communication, you ensure that if contact information or roles change, the response team will not lose any information.
During this reflection period, it’s important that vulnerabilities are visible. The immediate aftermath of a crisis is crucial to protecting your healthcare facility from the next event. If you were lacking clear communication, consider how your process should evolve.
On an external level, it’s important to do what you said you’ll do, on the timeline that you promised. Hold your crisis response team accountable for keeping up-to-date records and building drills into your annual or biannual plans. Remember that as the healthcare sector evolves, so do the risks that your organization will face.