Updated on: June 22, 2012

Natural Disasters and the Homeless: Could 2011 be the Year Hospitals Become Shelters?

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Original story posted on: June 13, 2011

pfurci100Even if the flooding of the Mississippi River in April and May wasn't as bad as initially feared, it still has been treacherous for those affected. Some 5,600 people have applied for government assistance. Moreover, early estimates indicate that flooding swamped about 450,000 acres of cropland and caused $250 million in damage to Mississippi alone.

The Joplin, Mo. tornado of May 22 then caused such severe damage to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin that all patients had to be evacuated and sent to other hospitals in the region.  The tornado's winds were so powerful that items from the hospital such as medications and medical records were found in neighboring counties (there is now a website that describes where these items can be returned). Many injured residents were taken to a field hospital, but there also are several shelters set up to house the homeless.

 

Springfield Is Hit

 

Then on June 1, tornadoes roared through Massachusetts, killing four people. The storm caused extensive damage in Springfield, the state's third largest city. A state of emergency was declared and authorities opened emergency shelters there as well.

 

In each of these three cases, there remain thousands of homeless who not only will impact hospitals now, but in the future as housing remains sparse.

 

Natural disasters know no boundaries, and in many cases the homeless grow in numbers in their wake. Tornadoes have been churning unexpectedly through many places this year, devastating many cities outside of the Tornado Alley of the Midwest. Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Joplin were the first towns to make headlines when hit by tornadoes, and ironically, on the first day of hurricane season, Massachusetts saw a major tornado.

 

In many respects, 2011 already is being compared to the horrific tornado and hurricane season of 1953. Similar to the unusually high numbers of damaging storms seen in 1953, scientists are predicting that this year will be a particularly active hurricane season thanks to warmer Atlantic Ocean waters.  Coastal hospitals along the Atlantic may be affected markedly.

 

Hospitals Preparedness

 

All hospitals need to keep in mind that as climate changes potentially bring more frequent and more severe weather events, it is important to anticipate, plan for and respond to a growing number of situations in areas that may become disaster prone. The damage caused to hospitals and other healthcare facilities during natural disasters can be devastating to them exactly at the time when they are needed most.

 

If there ever was a time to take a few steps to ensure that you, your employees and your communities are prepared for these events, it is now. A few pieces of advice to consider include:

 

Update insurance policies, especially flood and homeowner policies. Before the Tuscaloosa and Joplin disasters, and ahead of the 2011 hurricane season, insurers already were beginning to raise rates in anticipation of big disaster losses.

 

Make sure you stay connected. Whether you develop an app for you hospital or use one currently on the iPhone, it is important to have a strategy. If cell towers go down, an emergency radio that picks up various frequencies is necessary.

 

Have an employee and/or family notification system. Pick friends, relatives or colleagues out of state to serve as coordinators of families or groups in the event that many are separated.  You also can choose to post your status to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

 

Stockpile. Not that you have to prepare for the end of the world, but prepare reasonably.

 

Remember to stay prepared, stay ready and avoid long lengths of stay and RAC audits.

 

And stay safe.

 

About the Author

 

Patricia Furci is currently part-time, In-house Counsel at several hospitals, providing legal services specially addressing inpatient issues, Case Management functions and Guardianship services.

 

Contact the Author

 

patriciafurci@yahoo.com

 

To comment on this article please go to editor@racmontior.com

 

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