Safety

Chicago-area hospital reopens after flood-forced evacuation

Hospital Safety Insider, July 20, 2017

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A hospital in the northern suburbs of Chicago reopened Tuesday, nearly a week after flooding forced the facility to evacuate 93 patients. The case serves as a reminder to hospitals, government officials, and accrediting organizations alike that evacuation preparedness is essential to emergency planning.

The bottom floors of Northwestern Medicine’s Lake Forest Hospital began to flood July 12 as torrential rain hammered the region. “We were almost an island,” hospital president Thomas McAfee told The Chicago Tribune. Staffers had made sandbag barriers to keep the water at bay, but the flood eventually spilled over and began interfering with the emergency power generators, prompting the evacuation.

A massive fleet of ambulances lined up outside the facility, and patients were seen being wheeled out on gurneys, as Chicago-based WGN-TV reported.

Although electricity was restored within a day, the hospital had to undergo both a life safety inspection and a health inspection. “The inspectors look at anything that flooding might have touched,” said Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold, the Tribune reported. As of Monday evening, both sets of inspectors had given the green light to reopen.

While it might be tempting to sigh in relief that this episode ended without any apparent mishap, this case should remind hospital safety professionals everywhere to take another look at their evacuation readiness, says Steve MacArthur, safety consultant for The Greeley Company. Don’t think for one second that The Joint Commission (TJC) hasn’t already taken notice.

“For a long time, I’ve predicted that TJC would change their emergency exercise requirements away from influx scenarios and towards evacuation scenarios—hospitals tend to be able to manage an influx better than an evacuation—basically because hospitals ‘do’ influx all the time,” MacArthur says.

Managing any emergency that threatens to compromise patient care brings a certain degree of regulatory scrutiny with it, MacArthur adds.

“In that regard, this event is not much different than the strike at Tufts [Medical Center in Boston] in that the state regulatory agencies are going to give the tires a good kick, potentially during the event as well as afterwards,” he says.

When healthcare facilities in New Orleans hunkered down for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, some waited too long to evacuate, making it more dangerous when they finally tried to do so. 

“While this incident is nowhere near the size and scale of the flooding that took place after Hurricane Katrina, Mother Nature makes a point—emergencies and disasters know no bounds,” Jennifer Thew wrote for HealthLeaders Media.

MacArthur says he expects a full post-mortem of the evacuation. For the time being, though, it seems the hospital responded appropriately to minimize risk to patients.

“And that is a pretty darn good outcome—and only to be expected—hospitals are generally well-prepared to respond to emergencies,” MacArthur says. “They might not have all their I’s dotted and T’s crossed from a strict regulatory perspective, but when it comes to the actual response, most—if not all—folks know what they’re doing.”



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