Plan ahead for pandemic prevention

Nurse Leader Insider, January 29, 2007

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The threat of an influenza pandemic has raised the ante for healthcare facilities to plan accordingly. Joint Commission surveyors frequently ask about emergency management during unannounced visits. To help bolster your hospital's planning efforts, here are six tips you can weave into pandemic exercises to test staff capabilities and endurance.

  1. Think beyond a short-term drill
    Should a flu pandemic hit the United States, infectious cases will occur in waves that will last for weeks regionally, and perhaps years nationally and worldwide.

    This fact presents a new twist for emergency management exercises, which traditionally don't cover multiple days, said Peggy Luebbert, MS, MT(ASCP), CIC, CHSP, a system consultant for IC and epidemiology at Alegent Health in Omaha, NE. So don't limit yourself to single-day exercises.

  2. Coordinate exercises with seasonal flu vaccine efforts
    In November 2006, Alegent Health conducted a drill that attempted to raise flu vaccination rates for employees, Luebbert said. Drill organizers staffed the entrances to the system's hospital and assessed all employees as they entered to see whether they wanted flu shots or exhibited any symptoms of the illness.

  3. Push hospital limits with simulated victims
    Don't weaken your training when it comes to how many "victims" your pandemic exercise involves. Strive for victim numbers that will stress the hospital's plans, and include many types of people.

  4. Evaluate whether staff wear personal protective equipment
    Insist that healthcare workers who participate in a pandemic exercise wear the proper personal protective equipment, such as N-95 respirators, for the duration of the drill. Doing so better simulates a real event and passes on an important lesson to participants.

  5. Explore including off-shift staff in your next drill
    Healthcare workers have the challenging responsibility to stay ready at work and home should the flu take over a community, Luebbert said.

  6. Simulate an entire building being contaminated by disease
    People entering a hospital could widely spread the infection before clinicians are aware of it and, in doing so, contaminate the whole facility. It will be next to impossible to stop those initial flu cases from showing up in your emergency rooms. "Our job will be to prevent others from being exposed," Luebbert said, so take that stance when planning your drills.

Editor's note: Luebbert and James E.M. Bender, EMT-P spoke during HCPro's audioconference "Pandemic Exercise Drill Down: Implementing JCAHO's revised EC and IC standards." To order a copy of the program, go to or call our Customer Service Department at 800/650-6787.

Source: Briefings on Infection Control, January 2007, HCPro, Inc.

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