Safe hospitals, health care workers the focus of 2009 World Health Day event

The focus for World Health Day on April 7 is the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health care workers who treat those affected by emergencies. Hospitals, their staff and physicians, are critical lifelines for vulnerable people who have been afflicted by disasters. In nonemergency situations, physicians and caregivers are tasked with treating injuries and illness, and caring for peoples health needs and well-being at an already break-neck pace. Add on the elements of a disaster, and this level of care becomes even that much more focused and important.
Each year the World Health Organization, or WHO, develops an opportunity to raise awareness of global health priorities. This year, World Health Day’s focus on the safe hospital, especially during emergencies, illustrates how vital hospitals are to the communities they serve, before, during and after the threat of a catastrophe or disaster.
During the wildfires of 2007, when more than 500,000 residents of San Diego County were instructed to vacate their homes, Scripps Encinitas also faced the possibility of being evacuated. Despite the added stress of being located in harms way, Scripps Encinitas cared for its patients as usual, but the things we sometimes take for granted also needed to be managed. Take air quality. We needed to ensure that the air quality remained at normal levels within the hospital, which meant we had to deploy “air scrubbers” every few feet down every hallway throughout the entire facility. Caregivers, some of whom were evacuated from their own homes, remained on the clock to support the existing patients we had in beds, and those who were injured or ill from the fires. Masks were distributed to anyone who requested them, and when the local retailers either ran out of their own supply, or closed their doors due to the approaching flames, Scripps Encinitas was there. Some evacuees had no where to stay; hotels were fully booked, roadways to loved ones were closed, so we provided a roof over their head, blankets and cots to sleep on and food to eat. The hospital’s cafeteria fed everyone in the hospital; staff, patients and visitors. It coordinated a daycare facility for staff’s children who were not able to attend school.
The touch-and-go moments experienced by the hospital over the course of more than 72 hours under a blanket of ash, smoke, poor air quality and the encroaching flames, illustrated how important a safe hospital was to the community.
Scripps Encinitas was entrusted with providing the care that people needed, the resources they could not receive elsewhere, and a “safe haven” for not only patients’ family members who were hospitalized with an illness or injury, but also as a safe, clean place to rest amongst the chaos.
WHO’s mission this year on a global scale is to bring light to the importance of investing in health infrastructure that can withstand hazards and serve people in immediate need. They are urging health facilities to implement systems to respond to emergencies, such as fires, and ensure the continuity of care. Scripps Encinitas not only practices disaster scenarios on a regular basis, but also participates in the drills such as last fall’s disaster training event, the nation’s first large-scale disaster training event — Golden Guardian — that linked federal, state and local government agencies with private-sector health care officials. The drills brought together participants to collaboratively practice what it really takes to secure a hospital campus and keep it operational during times of distress.
Some of the other organizations in addition to Scripps Health that participated were the city of Encinitas and other local municipalities, U.S. Customs & Border Patrol, San Diego Police Department, San Diego Fire Department, San Diego County Emergency Medical Services, the U.S. Marine Corps, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and many others.
Recent catastrophic events, such as the devastating earthquakes in China and the tsunami in the Indian Ocean a few years back, can literally ravage an area or region to the point of their never being able to recover. In these situations, many people lose their lives and even more become injured or ill and need a safe, secure place to get the treatment that they deserve.
The administration, physicians, nurses and staff, in cooperation with Scripps Health’s four other hospital campuses, take emergency preparedness very seriously. Participation in local, regional, state and federal drills is ingrained in the organization’s culture of providing superior health services to the communities that they serve. When you visit your local hospital, learn the types of services that it can and will provide during a disaster. Get involved, advocate that your closest hospital facility take proactive measures to be prepared for the unexpected.
Events around the world April 7 will highlight successes, encourage safe facility design and construction, and build momentum for widespread emergency preparedness — to save lives and improve global health.

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