Emergency Preparedness at Runnymede Healthcare Centre

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“A coordinated, timely and effective response is critical in an emergency situation to ensure patient safety—the number one priority at Runnymede Healthcare Centre,” says Corinne Wong, Chief Operations Officer.

Loss of infrastructure, natural disasters or fires in the surrounding community were considered as examples of incidents that would need to be addressed during the development of Runnymede’s comprehensive Disaster and Emergency Management Plan. This plan ensures that incidents are handled in the most effective manner possible, causing minimal disruption to critical operations and patient care at the hospital. It includes guidelines and resources such as an Incident Management System (IMS) Framework, Departmental Recovery Plans, emergency code policies and a Crisis Communications Plan.

A primary component of the plan is the Incident Management System (IMS) Framework, a model that outlines staff, equipment, procedures and other resources that should be utilized in response to an emergency.  The framework also provides guidance on how to create and maintain a safe environment.

“Education is the key to ensuring an appropriate response in an emergency situation at Runnymede, says Stewart Dankner, Director, Support Services. “This begins at orientation for new staff and volunteers when we teach the importance of emergency preparedness at the hospital, and the role that they play in the response. Patients and visitors are also engaged so that they understand what they should do in an emergency such as a Code Red, and we provide a variety of resources to reinforce this going forward to ensure patient safety is ingrained within our organizational culture.”

The Departmental Recovery Plans – which were developed in collaboration with all departments across the hospital – highlight the primary business processes  for each department and outlines the alternative ways they can continue to provide services in the event of a disruption to normal operations. This ensures the hospital’s medically complex patients will continue to get the care they require.

Runnymede’s state-of-the-art facility has numerous built-in redundancies, another mechanism that keeps the hospital appropriately prepared to maintain critical functions in an emergency. Failsafe telephones are located on the patient floors and in other essential areas of the hospital such as at reception and in the pharmacy, guaranteeing open lines of communication at all times. Similarly, backup generators re-route power to vital healthcare equipment such as IV pumps and feeding tubes in the case of a power failure. Leading-edge synchronized transfer switches –sometimes referred to as “make-before-break” switches – further act as safeguards for the hospital’s energy systems. Through the synchronization of independent power sources, energy flow should remain uninterrupted, and the momentary disruptions that might typically occur from the transfer of energy sources in other facilities should not be noticed at Runnymede.

Another innovative design feature of the hospital is Runnymede’s building automation system (BAS). A distributed control system that monitors device failures and optimizes the performance of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and alarm systems, the BAS reduces energy use and notifies staff if a malfunction occurs. Housed virtually on the hospital network, the BAS is accessible from anywhere, allowing seamless monitoring and the identification of changes as they happen. This information facilitates effective decision making in an emergency and guides the best use of staff and resources.

Runnymede also has a dedicated resource to champion emergency preparedness at the hospital. The Risk Management and Safety Specialist leads education and training initiatives for staff, volunteers, patients and visitors, and ensures they understand what they should do in a crisis in order to protect themselves and each other from harm. A significant part of this education consists of emergency code procedures and is provided on an ongoing basis.

An emergency code is an alert for a critical event that requires immediate action and is denoted by a standardized colour set by the Ontario Hospital Association for hospitals in Ontario. Standardization across hospitals and healthcare organizations facilitates effective communication and coordination between organizations and their stakeholders and is especially useful when organizations are affected by the same emergency.

Annual Safety Week is another event for staff and volunteers at Runnymede to advance their knowledge of emergency code procedures through a diverse range of resources such as presentations, videos, quick reference guides and hospital-wide competitions. The hospital also implemented a Code of the Month initiative, which highlights a different code each month and the salient steps that need to be taken in response. Advertised in high traffic areas throughout the hospital, this initiative has received positive feedback and support.

The crisis communication plan, another facet of the Disaster and Emergency Management Plan, provides procedures for the co-ordination of communications within Runnymede, and between the hospital and any applicable external stakeholders (e.g. emergency responders) and the public, in the event of an emergency. This plan not only addresses media relations issues and the communication methods for responding to situations quickly and effectively, but it helps to restore confidence and reassure staff, patients and visitors.

Emergencies can happen at any time and when least expected. Providing ongoing education and having a comprehensive Disaster and Emergency Management Plan in place not only fosters a culture of emergency preparedness at Runnymede, but ensures the hospital maintains a strong commitment to the highest standards of quality and safety.