Tubbs Evacuation
Disaster Management

When Disaster Strikes: How to Leverage VectorCare to Evacuate Patients 4x Faster in an Emergency

November 13, 2018
VectorCare Team

The Problem: Poor Communication When Disaster Strikes

When Hurricane Irene threatened Brooklyn in August of 2011, the Coney Island Hospital was well prepared for an evacuation. Armed with a robust emergency management system and the experience of 20 disaster drills per year, the hospital had a full three days to prepare for an evacuation in the face of a large coastal storm. On Friday, August 26th at 8am, personnel began evacuating 280 patients to nearby medical facilities; the operation took 12 hours to complete. Despite being considered a highly successful evacuation, the Coney Island Hospital evacuation lasted a full day and necessitated patients being transported without their medical records to save time.

At best, even the most successful hospital evacuations take a day or two to transport patients to safety. At worst, a poor evacuation plan can jeopardize the lives of hundreds of patients. When Hurricane Katrina left 11 hospitals surrounded by floodwater in August of 2005, emergency preparedness plans floundered. The city had no plans for moving hundreds of patients at once, and lost telephone communications systems made it almost impossible to contact available ambulance companies. When help did come, hospital personnel found it difficult in the moment to separate patients by type, destination, and mode of transportation.

Though no crisis can be fully prepared for, hospitals often encounter the same problems in an evacuation. Most notably, communications systems are fundamentally unreliable in a crisis. To quote a study from the Eurasian Journal of Medicine:

“Although communication and coordination are critical in disasters, the communication systems usually do not function properly during a catastrophe. This situation is one of the most significant problems concerning disasters. It becomes even a greater problem if communication and coordination with necessary institutions have not been established ahead of a catastrophe.”

Hospitals generally rely on telephone communication to reach emergency transport services, and are left in the dark when phone networks often fail during emergencies. Though hospitals can call on the National Disaster Medical System(NDMS) for transportation help in the events of a major disaster, the request requires a presidential declaration and can take days for help to arrive. When hospitals are finally able to secure transport, patients often travel without valuable medical records or care information.

Leveraging VectorCare as a Disaster Management Solution

When the Tubbs fire hit Santa Rosa in October of 2017, Kaiser Permanente needed to evacuate their patients to safety. Using VectorCare’s disaster management technology, they were able to evacuate their entire patient population quickly and seamlessly:

“With the fires rapidly approaching, KP used VectorCare to broadcast an alert simultaneously to all transportation providers that their help was urgently needed to move all patients.

“Within 2 hours of sending the VectorCare notification, they had 35 ambulances, 30 wheelchair-­equipped vans, and many other KP buses and medical transportation vehicles ready to evacuate the facility,” said Stark.

“I can’t imagine that the team could have handled this sudden volume, and track where every patient was taken, as gracefully and calmly as they did, if they were still doing things the old way. This solution makes sense for Kaiser Permanente both from a day­to­day operations perspective, and whenever we need to quickly scale during times of crisis.”

Thanks to the quick-scaling nature of the VectorCare platform, Kaiser was able to evacuate their patients at a rate of 4x the speed per patient of a nearby hospital evacuating at the same time.

In addition to speed, VectorCare solves another crucial issue during evacuation procedures: tracking patient movement & care needs. When several dozen ambulances show up to transport patients during a stressful situation, the number one priority is to evacuate patients out of the area of danger. Important details like tracking patient movement and specifying the level of care required for each patient can often fall by the wayside, and care quality suffers as a result. Regardless of the effectiveness of hospital staff, we know that any movement places patients in a HIGH-RISK SCENARIO FOR SAFETY AND HEALTH OUTCOMES.

With VectorCare’s bi-directional, cloud-based platform, quality of patient care doesn’t need to be sacrificed during an emergency evacuation. Care teams can track specific patient movement, what levels of care the patient was provided with, and receive alerts about any incidents or complications that occur during movement. Care teams can even instantly communicate details with service providers via our instant messaging tool. When the dust settles after evacuation, nurses can view a clear record of each patient’s movement and care.

Under CMS’s new Emergency Preparedness Requirements[2], facilities in evacuation mode must have plans in place for “coordinating patient care within the facility and across different healthcare providers”. VectorCare enables seamless communication for patient services everyday, but is ready to scale and handle an evacuation should disaster strike.

Want to read more from the Patient Care Logistics Journal? Check out our latest write-up on CMS's new dialysis transportation reimbursement.

Graff, Amy. "130 patients evacuated from Kaiser hospital in Santa Rosa", SF Gate, 9 October 2017.

Gray, Brad H, and Kathy Hebert. “Hospitals in Hurricane Katrina: Challenges Facing Custodial Institutions in a Disaster.” Urban, July 2006.

“Hurricane Irene: Evacuation of Coney Island Hospital.” Case Studies in Public Health Preparedness and Response to Disasters, by Linda Young Landesman and Isaac B. Weisfuse, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2014.

"Statement from Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital regarding Wildfires". sutterhealth.org, 10 October 2017. Web.