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Report (OEI-06-13-00260)

09-16-2014
Hospital Emergency Preparedness and Response During Superstorm Sandy

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Summary

WHY WE DID THIS STUDY

Federal regulations require that hospitals prepare for emergencies including natural disasters. The strength of Superstorm Sandy and the population density of the affected areas placed high demands on hospitals and related services. Prior studies by OIG found substantial challenges in health care facility emergency preparedness and response. In a 2006 study, we found that many nursing homes had insufficient emergency plans or did not follow their plans. In a 2012 followup study, we found that gaps continued to exist in nursing home emergency preparedness and response.

HOW WE DID THIS STUDY

For this study, we surveyed 174 Medicare-certified hospitals located in declared disaster areas in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York during Superstorm Sandy. We also conducted site visits to 10 purposively selected hospitals located in areas most affected by the storm. Additionally, we examined information from State survey agency and accreditation organization surveys of hospitals conducted prior to the storm and spoke to surveyors about their survey process related to emergency preparedness. We also interviewed State hospital associations and health care coalitions in the three States.

WHAT WE FOUND

Most hospitals in declared disaster areas sheltered in place during Superstorm Sandy, and 7 percent evacuated. Eighty-nine percent of hospitals in these areas reported experiencing substantial challenges in responding to the storm. These challenges represented a range of interrelated problems from infrastructure breakdowns, such as electrical and communication failures, to community collaboration issues over resources, such as fuel, transportation, hospital beds, and public shelters. Hospitals reported that prior emergency planning was valuable during the storm and that they subsequently revised their plans as a result of lessons learned. Prior to the storm, most hospitals received emergency-related deficiency citations from hospital surveyors, some of which related to the challenges reported by hospitals during Superstorm Sandy.

WHAT WE RECOMMEND

The experiences of hospitals during Superstorm Sandy and the deficiencies cited prior to the storm reveal gaps in emergency planning and execution that might be applicable to hospitals nationwide. Given that insufficient community-wide coordination among affected entities was a common thread through the challenges identified by hospital administrators, we recommend that ASPR continue to promote Federal, State, and community collaboration in major disasters. We also recommend that CMS examine existing policies and provide guidance regarding flexibility for reimbursement under disaster conditions. ASPR and CMS concurred with the recommendations.

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