The Joint Commission recently moderated a panel discussion on emergency preparation for home health leaders. The panel represented several segments of the industry: home health, hospice, DME, pharmacy, and non-medical providers including national, regional and local providers. They discussed key strategies for conducting more effective emergency operations so the quality of care and safety of your patients will not suffer in an emergency. They identified four phases of emergency planning: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.


To help prevent or mitigate the consequences of a natural disaster or emergency, the first step is to develop an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). Start by identifying the type of natural disasters that may occur in your area such as tornado, hurricane, blizzard, flood, mudslides, or other weather-related emergencies. You should also have a plan for man-made emergencies e.g., structural emergencies such as a roof collapse, power outages, gas leaks, industrial accident, fire, or acts of violence or terrorism. Your EOP should outline community services available to help you prepare for disasters or emergencies in your area. Next, you should identify individual responsibilities for various stages and details for its implementation. Make sure to include the full scope of your business practices and adequately estimate the scale of clinical disruptions that occur in a disaster. Create your EOP and practice it at least once a year.


To prepare for an event, outline strategies for how staff will be notified and how you will obtain and replenish supplies, both medical and non-medical. You should have adequate fuel supply, drinking water and water for patient care, process equipment and sanitation; enough to sustain yourselves for 80 hours. Include local community services and volunteers in your emergency preparedness planning. Prioritize patients by their level of need and make sure they are contacted first. Have a process in place for easily identifying staff so patients and emergency personnel will know whom to contact. This can be done with uniforms, armbands or ID bands. Have a communication plan with your vendors or partners who can support you during an emergency and who can help provide continuity of care when your office needs it.


The response phase of EOP will test your implementation of appropriate measures for responding to an event. After you conduct your EOP drills, evaluate your response. The panelists emphasized that “communication and coordination are crucial” at this phase of emergency operations. Did you prepare for how you will manage patients in an emergency? Did you include plans for how you will manage patients’ services, supplies, referrals or transport? When you test your EOP you will be able to identify opportunities for improvement and work to strengthen your plan.


The recovery phase identifies measures required to recover from an emergency event. It includes managing the potential adverse effects of an emergency including the emotional, economic, social and physical wellbeing of both patients and staff. Evaluate the effectiveness of your EOP by testing and performing staged emergency exercises. The best stress test for your EOP is a tabletop drill or exercise that will stretch, or even cause a little chaos, to help identify any weaknesses.

The panel discussion was turned into a webinar that can be viewed on The Joint Commission Home Care Webinar Replays page, or you can download a pdf of the slideshow.

Do you need a partner to help with your emergency communication plan? Using an after-hours telephone triage company is an effective solution for continuity of care in an emergency when you need extra help or are unable to provide care. AfterHours Triage can assist in times of natural disaster, emergency or simple power or phone outages by taking calls to bridge the gap until you can resume normal operations. For more information on including AfterHours Triage in your emergency preparedness planning, contact us.