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12 Ways Healthcare Providers can Reduce the Risk of Pandemic at Their Facility

Last updated 3/19/20.

Novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, began spreading in China in late 2019 and has since affected more than 200,000 individuals and taken more than 9,000 lives worldwide.

While its growth is slowing in its country of origin, it’s started to expand in other countries, including the U.S. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were reporting less than 2,000 locally contracted cases of COVID-19. As of today, that number has soared past 10,000, and 150 Americans had died. Naturally, public health officials are focused on preventing more person-to-person spread.

Providers, on the other hand, tend to prioritize patient care. That doesn’t mean you care less about outbreak management protocol, but here’s a refresher.

How Healthcare Providers can Reduce the Risk of Pandemic at Their Facility

Without proper risk management and emergency preparedness, diseases like COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm even the most organized health systems. 

“Healthcare workers are frontline responders to the pandemic situation,” risk management expert Andrew Boyarsky tells Florence Health. “Pandemic outbreaks happen in waves, and for COVID-19, it’s coming and could return at any point, so we need to prepare our healthcare facilities and communities for when that happens.”

Risk Management & Emergency Management for Healthcare Providers

According to Boyarsky, a solid emergency action plan is the best foundation. And it should include a multidisciplinary team that plans for shortages, manages staffing issues and creates up-to-date situation reports, much like the CDC.

Here are some other recommendations, per Boyarsky.

  1. Identify your facility’s emergency management plan or incident command team, staff trained in a standardized approach to emergency response.
  2. Create a plan for shortages. What will your facility do if medications aren’t available or patients requiring certain equipment, like ventilator support, need to be relocated? 
  3. Find out how your institution will handle sick time, overtime and staffing shortages. Staff should know they will be supported in their decision to stay home from work due to respiratory illness.
  4. Implement intake screenings using the CDC and WHO’s recommendations. Use the CDC’s COVID-19 Hospital Preparedness Assessment Tool to monitor intake, isolation, identification, and treatment of patients and employees with symptoms of the virus.

Proper Use of PPE, Hand Hygiene and Patient Triage

COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets that carry the virus, which infected individuals inhale. Transmission can also occur via surfaces or objects that droplets have landed on and that patients touch and inadvertently place on the eyes, mouth, or nose. As a result, one of the most effective ways for HCPs to minimize the outbreak is by practicing good hand hygiene and encouraging patients to do the same. (Remember, 20 seconds with soap and water or hand sanitizer with 65 to 95 percent alcohol.)

Boyarsky also highlights the need to train or re-train staff on the proper application, use and discarding of personal protective equipment like masks (surgical and N95), gloves and gowns. He recalls seeing first responders during the Ebola epidemic that tossed used gloves into a city trash bin. Improper training and management of contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE) can contribute to the spread of disease.

  1. Practice good hand hygiene and review PPE protocols for COVID-19.
  2. Make sure all staff know proper hand hygiene and PPE protocol.
  3. Conduct audits and continued monitoring to review use of PPE and hand hygiene.
  4. Follow CDC protocol for isolating and providing protective equipment to patients with suspected COVID-19 infection. 
  5. Ask about telehealth. Is there an opportunity for your institution to conduct virtual care to reduce the risk of exposure for patients and staff?

Healthcare Workers’ Physical and Mental Health

In the middle of an epidemic, one of the biggest risks to quality of care and infection control is clinician burnout. RNs, APRNs, PAs, MDs and all other HCPs should prioritize staying healthy, which includes mental well-being.

  1. If you’re not feeling well, stay home. The CDC encourages anyone who is exhibiting respiratory symptoms not to go to work. 
  2. Take care of yourself. Eat well, get enough sleep, drink water and make time to de-stress.
  3. Reduce your contact with sick people when you can, as this is the best way to avoid contracting the virus. For example, practice WHO-recommended “social distancing” and “change out handshakes for elbow bumps,” Boyarsky adds. Cough or sneeze into your elbow and educate others to do the same. 

COVID-19 Risk Management Resources for Healthcare Workers

These have been some of Boyarksy’s preferred resources through the outbreak.

WHO Coronavirus Situation Reports

CDC Coronavirus Homepage
Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard

CDC COVID-19 Resources for Healthcare Providers

PPE Recommendations for COVID-19 

CDC’s COVID-19 Hospital Preparedness Assessment Tool

While risk management and emergency preparedness is complex, the takeaway for HCPs is simple: Health professionals are vital to stop the spread of coronavirus — so know exactly how your facility plans to handle a possible outbreak and take care of yourself, through infection control protocol, healthy habits and plenty of rest.

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