Since the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals around the world have been overwhelmed by patients infected by the virus. Even the major hospitals have experienced being overbooked, rendering them unavailable to other patients requiring different health services. And most concerning of all, emergency rooms became the ground zero of the outbreaks in every town, city, and province.
For small, rural hospitals, the pandemic presents the biggest challenges they’ve faced so far. They are already lacking equipment and facilities for emergencies, and COVID-19 exacerbated this problem. Considering that annual ER visits in the U.S. reach millions, any small hospital can be confronted by an emergency situation anytime.
If you run a small healthcare facility in a remote community, chances are all residents of that community counts on your services alone. Your market may be smaller compared to that of the hospitals in the metro, but it can feel too big when an emergency strikes, like a COVID-19 outbreak.
In such a scenario, your healthcare facility should be able to provide quality care, even if you can’t offer major services. Your patients should receive the accommodation they’re expecting from you, and stay in good shape until they can be re-admitted to a bigger hospital.
Below are the ways to make your small healthcare facility more prepared for emergencies:
1. Offer Emergency Equipment to Your Medical Directors
If you don’t own a private ambulance, you can allow your medical directors to transport urgent-needs patients themselves. The law permits volunteer medical directors to equip their personal vehicles with blue and red police car lights. However, remind them that they can only turn these lights on en route to the patient’s location and to the hospital.
Letting your medical directors handle emergencies will lift a burden off public ambulances. Given the number of people contracting COVID-19 every day, especially in areas where vaccines are still unavailable, public healthcare responders are surely overwhelmed.
2. Invest in Childbirth Equipment and an Obstetrics Unit
One research revealed that staff from 144 rural hospitals are concerned about their facilities’ lack of specialty care for mothers and newborn babies. Those 144 rural hospitals have closed their obstetrics unit, so they have no choice but to perform emergency childbirths in the ER.
The staff at those hospitals worry about their lack of training, experience, and equipment. As such, they could experience issues in managing childbirth safely. This is a serious problem; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infant deaths are higher in rural counties than in metropolitan areas. In 2014, the infant mortality rate in rural hospitals was 6.55 deaths per 1,000.
Hence, if your healthcare facility has the means to open an obstetrics unit, do so, and invest in high-quality equipment for childbirth and antenatal care. Mothers and newborns require utmost care nowadays because the newer strains of COVID-19 spread faster. And if you often take in COVID-19 patients in your ER, a mother giving birth and her baby can be exposed to the virus.
3. Invest in a Streamlined Communication System
Many small rural hospitals struggle with communication, so some of their staff just use their personal devices to get in touch with patients. If you have a budget for IT, streamline your hospital’s communication system by investing in a single communication platform for your staff. Your entire organization can use it to send alerts to nurses, inform caregivers of their tasks, and pass messages more effectively. The platform should be able to connect to smartphones so that you can send messages and alerts directly to specific staff.
4. Call for Volunteers
If your healthcare facility doesn’t have enough budget for innovation yet, you can maximize the power of volunteerism. Strong relationships between people and organizations in small communities can help mitigate the challenges rural hospitals face. The Institute for Rural Emergency Management (IREM) can help you train your volunteers. The IREM also conducts research in emergency preparedness, so you may refer to their data as you improve your own facility’s emergency preparedness.
To encourage your community members to volunteer, let them know that training courses are free and available in-person and online, and are certified by the Department of Homeland Security. You can also enlist the assistance of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the national network of local volunteer groups supporting public health. MRC training also offers free training, and volunteers must only register to receive it.
Emergency preparedness and response is one the toughest challenges faced by the entire healthcare industry today. So dedicate as much of your resources as you can to new equipment, staff, and volunteers. Every effort you exert can save one life; remind your volunteers and staff of the same thing, and they may become more motivated to help.