Healthcare Business News

Lessons from superstorm Sandy, and other letters

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: December 22, 2012 - 12:01 am ET

"Recovery Mode” (Dec. 10, p. 6) did a nice job of highlighting the need for hospitals to have a disaster plan in place and to test that plan on a regular basis. We work with healthcare providers and other patient facilities such as nursing homes to develop and drill those plans. As the crisis call center for 9/11 victims and their families, we know the importance of having well-established crisis plans at all levels of business—from managing supplies to accounting for staff, physicians and patients in the midst of disaster. Yet, despite examples such as Hurricane Sandy, many facilities simply haven't taken the time to focus on it.

Ted Uczen
FEI Behavioral Health

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Unbowed by Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy hit our shores in late October, even some of the most prestigious healthcare facilities found themselves humbled by the superstorm. But the event also highlighted some accomplishments and advancements in emergency management and preparation. At Hackensack University Medical Center, we began preparations for the storm more than a week in advance. Backup generators and extra fuel supply were brought on-site; food, medications and ample sleep accommodations were stocked at the hospital before the hurricane touched down. Once we lost power on Monday evening, HackensackUMC immediately switched to emergency generators and established an incident command center to streamline information and communications. During the storm, the medical center received and treated 60 patients from a neighboring hospital, Palisades Medical Center (Hudson County, N.J.) that, like other hospitals, needed to be evacuated because of flood-related damage. With assistance from the National Guard and members of the Palisades healthcare team, patients were transported seamlessly in the middle of the night and early morning. Our New Jersey Mobile Satellite Emergency Department (NJ-MSED) units, funded through a unique partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, absorbed some of the patient overflow. The units are outfitted with critical-care beds, a portable digital X-ray unit, a small pharmaceutical cache and one is outfitted as a mobile operating room. In conjunction with the EMS Task Force, we were able to provide lifesaving emergency services to residents in four New Jersey counties, as well as hard-hit Long Island. In fact, in the middle of the storm, the NJ-MSED team delivered a healthy baby boy while deployed in Brick, N.J. We remain deployed in Jersey City to this day, ensuring we remain committed to the recovery efforts. We will remain on-site as long as requested, and have already seen nearly 1,000 patients. On our main campus, we focused on helping our staff safely get to and from work. During the week of the storm, HackensackUMC purchased 1,000 gallons of gas and brought a tanker on campus to provide direct patient caregivers with up to five gallons each. Local gas stations also provided HackensackUMC staff members with a “priority” line. All of these efforts helped make it easier for some of our team members to continue providing critical care to patients. We should reflect on the positive performances demonstrated throughout the region. When put to the test, many hospitals rose to the occasion, and emergency drill practices were transformed into real-life situations. Coordination, cooperation and open communication between hospitals were integral to the success of patient transfers and should be used as standard practices for the future.

Robert C. Garrett
President and CEO
Hackensack University Health Network
Hackensack, N.J.

Hill doc priorities questioned

After reading the statements of the doctor/legislators regarding healthcare priorities not addressed by the ACA (“Docs on the Hill,” Dec. 3, p. 6), I was appalled. The vast majority of the group (with a few exceptions) identified priorities that protect physicians' incomes rather than improve the healthcare of Americans or the workings of the American healthcare system. Apparently, most doctors in Congress think that the appropriate priorities are things such as tort reform so doctors don't have to worry about being sued (when all objective evidence shows that the tort law system adds only a minor amount of cost to the healthcare system), restoring the ability of doctors to balance-bill patients, doing away with any oversight that might ratchet down prices charged by physicians (such as the Independent Patient Advisory Board) and giving doctors the ability to collude to fix prices without fear of government prosecution. Where are the priorities that will actually help somebody other than the doctors themselves, such as addressing the looming shortage of physicians, doing away with the arcane maze of rules promulgated by dozens of different insurers that add needless cost to the system, educating consumers about evidence-based medicine and eliminating wasteful and needless treatments, and bringing down the high cost of medical education in this country? With doctors like these in Congress, I fear for the future of American healthcare.

Vickie J. Williams
Associate dean of academic affairs
Gonzaga University School of Law
Spokane, Wash.

Incentives are not enough

Regarding the $2.5 billion paid out through the EHR Incentive Program (“Narrowing the gap toward Bush's goal,” Nov. 27,, it would also be appropriate to note the amount of money physicians and hospitals have invested in purchasing and implementing the systems. … What they receive (from the government) is much lower than what is paid to purchase and implement the systems required to position them to receive incentive payments.

Roxana Corbett
Independent consultant
San Diego

Questioning who uses e-records

The study regarding e-records access leading to greater healthcare use (“Patients' e-records access tied with increased healthcare use: study,” Nov. 20, is based on poor data analysis techniques, which lead to faulty conclusions. Any comparisons about users versus nonusers should have been made on medically similar cohorts. I believe the data would demonstrate that people that already have more interaction with medical facilities (i.e. chronic conditions) would be far more likely to make use of the EHR systems.

Larry Hector
Myersville, Md.

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