Helping hospitals prepare for disaster

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With the risk of natural and man made disasters, infectious disease outbreaks, and the potential for terrorist attacks, hospitals need to be ready to manage mass casualty Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) incidents, ensuring patients will have access to the immediate care they need, without putting others at risk.

The Centre for Excellence in Emergency Preparedness (CEEP), a national non-profit organization, has been working to advocate for improved and integrated health-care emergency planning across Canada. Its efforts to help hospitals and emergency planners access the resources needed to prepare for such emergencies has already been recognized internationally for its benefits to public health.

“The need for seamless health emergency planning is vital,” says Dr. Daniel Kollek, chief of Kitchener-Waterloo emergency departments and executive director of CEEP. “CEEP is working to provide health-care institutions with evidence-based best practice guidelines for emergency planning that can be shared and integrated into regional, provincial and federal plans.”

Grand River Hospital in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, a supporter of CEEP, is currently leading preparation in its region for potential CBRN incidents with the development of a 60-member hospital CBRN response team. The team is part of a new Ministry of Health and Long-term Care initiative for acute care hospitals in Ontario to recruit and train hospital CBRN response teams.

If a CBRN incident occurs locally, these teams, made up of staff members from across the hospital, will be prepared to decontaminate patients before they enter the emergency department. This will reduce the risk of department contamination and ensure hospital staff and patients are not put at unnecessary risk. As many other hospitals in Ontario work to implement CBRN response teams, CEEP is working to create awareness of the need for these teams nationwide.

“This level of preparation is just what CEEP hopes to see across Canada,” says Dr. Kollek. “It’s one thing to have the equipment on site, but without practice, staff won’t have the confidence and skill needed to perform under pressure in an emergency. The more our hospitals prepare for CBRN events and other disasters, the better prepared they’ll be to handle increased patient volumes while providing safe and effective patient care.”

CEEP recently hosted the first national health emergency preparedness conference in Hamilton, Ontario. There, international health-care professionals gathered to learn more about how hospitals can prepare for disaster and viewed a live CBRN decontamination exercise. As the only organization of its kind in Canada, CEEP’s unique focus on health-care differentiates it from other emergency preparedness organizations. Their planning from a front-line care perspective helps government agencies and health-care organizations develop more patient focused and comprehensive planning strategies.

CEEP is also supported by St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener and St. Michael’s and Women’s College Hospitals in Toronto. Hospitals, health-care professionals and interested community members can find more information on CEEP and access to free health emergency preparedness resources at www.ceep.ca.