According to the National Climate Assessment, a team of experts working under the Federal Advisory Committee, extreme weather events have been increasing in frequency, particularly over the last several decades. Floods, hurricanes, snow storms, droughts, and massive wildfires pose a significant health threat and can cause serious disruptions in the production and logistics of medical supplies. Many hospitals, for example, are still feeling the IV bag shortage, resultant of Hurricane Maria, nearly a year after the storm. Because these extreme weather events are often sudden and occur with little to no warning, it is important providers have a plan for increased supply needs and the financial impact extreme weather events can spark.
In the aftermath of an extreme weather event, it is likely hospitals and health systems will see an increase of patients suffering from weather-related medical issues. Power outages caused by severe storms can result in injuries like carbon monoxide poisoning. Water-borne diseases after flooding, heatstroke or hypothermia from extreme temperature exposure, and smoke inhalation or extreme asthma attacks during a wildfire also occur. Traumatic injuries, such as concussions or broken bones, can be the outcome during any extreme weather event. To treat these patients, the hospital must have the needed supplies. Because delivery of supplies can be interrupted by the extreme weather—and expedited supplies ordered on an emergent basis are costly—having a stock of emergency supplies on hand is a good strategy to prepare for one of these events.
Additionally, if a healthcare facility is left intact after an extreme weather event, the organization often serves as a refuge for the community. Often, hospitals provide water, food, supplies, and shelter to both the affected local community members and the relief workers that came to the area. Ochsner, for example, was able to feed the community during the aftermath of Katrina using the six-month supply of food and water the health system keeps on hand.
Recognizing the potential for financial losses is another way hospitals and health systems can prepare for extreme weather events. Depending on the type of weather event, there is the possibility the organization will experience losses on capital equipment or endure structural damage. While private insurance and government assistance will help recover from these losses, there may also be costs to the provider. Organizations receiving FEMA’S Public Assistance grant, for instance, are required to contribute 10% of the funds. Furthermore, replacing damaged or ruined equipment will require supply chain department time and resources.
With extreme weather events expected to continue becoming more frequent and intense, health care providers can best prepare for possible extreme weather by identifying what weather is most likely to affect the local region, having a supply strategy in place, and preparing for the aftermath of such an event.
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