'These plans can't just sit on a shelf'

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The recent swine flu epidemic may be helping to drive HME providers to reevaluate their emergency preparedness plans, says The VGM Group's Merideth McDonald.

"The swine flu and other possible pandemics are totally different animals," said McDonald, vice president of technologies, who helped to create a workbook on emergency preparedness for providers after Hurricane Katrina. "The effect is more widespread and intense."

McDonald traveled to Minnesota in July to give her first presentation on preparing for pandemics. She has presented before on natural disasters and other emergencies.

The swine flu and other possible pandemics pose different challenges, McDonald said, because they're more likely to affect children and young adults, not the elderly. Providers have to ask themselves, she said: If children and young adults must stay home from school, like they did in New York as a result of the swine flu epidemic, how does that impact employees who are parents?

"You have to be able to identify key personnel and be able to set them up at home," McDonald said. "How do you facilitate that? Do you have the right infrastructure?"

In general, when developing emergency preparedness plans, providers should cover three bases, McDonald said: their businesses, their employees and their patients. She encourages providers to keep things simple by incorporating familiar tools like calling trees.

"The biggest thing--whether you have a one-page plan or a 10-page plan--is testing it and re-testing it in non-emergency situations,"she said. "These plans can't just sit on a shelf."