No system is perfect: government, healthcare or education. The good thing is, there is always room for improvement. However, sometimes it takes a significant event to really test the foundations of a system to see where improvement is needed. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be this test for healthcare systems — locally as well as globally.
It is important for healthcare administrators and nursing leaders to identify areas for improvement of policies, procedures and processes in the facilities and systems they oversee so that they and their staff are better prepared going forward.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Steps Healthcare Facilities Can Take Now to Prepare for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) to help identify these areas.
Although this information is specific to COVID-19, it provides recommendations that apply to containing and limiting future outbreaks while ensuring the safety of healthcare staff and adequate care for the public.
Be As Prepared as Possible
Healthcare administrators and nursing leaders are continually trying to anticipate the needs of their facilities and staff. When it comes to infectious disease planning and preparedness, the CDC should be one of their first stops for up-to-date and reliable information.
Another part of this preparation includes an appropriate emergency plan for additional staffing to cover for absenteeism in the event of an outbreak. Having a contingency plan for accessing more qualified healthcare personnel if needed is crucial for emergency preparedness, as evidenced by the nursing shortage during the COVID-19 crisis.
Shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment such as respirators is also a concern. Nursing leaders and healthcare administrators need to anticipate the increased need for these supplies during an outbreak. Developing partnerships and agreements with local and state governments and businesses can help ensure that personnel, medical supplies and equipment are available in large quantities if required.
Early Containment Is Crucial
Less than 100 miles off the coast of China, Taiwan was expected to potentially have many COVID-19 cases. However, after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, Taiwanese government and healthcare officials put a plan in place with measures that left Taiwan better prepared to deal with COVID-19 almost 17 years later.
Early containment and proactive testing of people with respiratory infection symptoms in addition to government-imposed border control has been very effective in reducing disease transmission and deaths due to COVID-19 in Taiwan as well as in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Conversely, physicians evaluating COVID-19 in Italy warned other healthcare providers and countries what can happen when early containment of an outbreak is not achieved. Local, regional and national healthcare services are quickly overwhelmed and unable to respond as needed, seriously taxing the entire healthcare system and threatening many lives.
Protect Healthcare Staff
Having an adequate number of healthcare workers is essential during a healthcare emergency or outbreak. To protect staff, healthcare administrators and nursing leaders need to begin screening all visitors and new patients for symptoms before they enter healthcare facilities. They also need to ensure appropriate PPE is available for healthcare staff. Regular PPE training and audits of all healthcare staff can help ensure correct and effective use of the equipment.
The CDC also recommends performing an inventory check of available PPE supplies. It provides recommendations on how and where to obtain more PPE supplies, such as respirator masks, depending on the level of need.
During an outbreak, hospitals will continue to receive patients needing medical care for other conditions. In addition, healthcare facilities will already have patients requiring medical care unrelated to the outbreak. These patients need to be protected from contracting the infection while receiving care.
When faced with an influx of outbreak patients, healthcare administrators and nursing leaders need to work closely with infectious disease departments and experts to ensure their facility does not become a disease amplifier. The spread of an outbreak infection in a healthcare facility could have devastating consequences.
Challenging health events provide valuable learning opportunities for healthcare administrators. Anticipating critical needs and being as prepared as possible is essential before a major health crisis occurs.