I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
—Thomas Alva Edison
At various points in time, hospitals have had to use their emergency management plans to respond to weather-related events and natural disasters, fires, mass casualty events, such as the nightclub shooting in Florida, and even supply chain issues. However, it’s probably safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken many organizations’ emergency management plans, and likely most staff, to a point that exceeds any actual past event or simulation drill. And, we are still in the thick of the fight against this virus.
Given all that hospitals are going through right now, why do I think this a great opportunity to fine-tune your emergency management plan? Because leaders use adversity and failure to learn, move forward and be wiser in the future.
Henry Ford said, "Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” Thomas Alva Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work," and Sir Winston Churchill said, "Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
I believe we can take a cue from the great leaders and innovators of the past to learn from our struggles during this pandemic. A pandemic that revealed how prepared — or unprepared — many of our health systems were.
Below, I have described three steps to fine-tune your emergency management plan to reduce the stress and failure in the next emergency response.
- Start with leadership and multidisciplinary committees to do a deep dive and document struggles like the lack of enough PPE or not enough airborne infection isolation and other failures that were within your control, and then document challenges like supply chain closures and failures that you could not control. Look at how your emergency management plan supported or failed to reduce the stress or failure. Be bold and honest in this process. Do not be tempted to justify the stress or failures.
- Once you have this list, look at each struggle/failure point that was in your control and ask why it was a struggle/failure. What did the organization do to address the issue, and how can the organization change things to reduce or eliminate the issue? For the struggles that were not in your control, again look at how the organization addressed it during the COVID-19 pandemic and how it could be addressed in the future for a better outcome. An example of a key lesson learned from COVID-19 out of many is that the current supply model of just-in-time is great when all things are working as they should, but the same process becomes a risk when access is limited to the outside world. Be purposeful in this process!
- Finally, in collaboration with leadership and your multidisciplinary committees, include community partners where appropriate to modify your all-encompassing emergency management plan to reflect the lessons learned. Try to work from wisdom rather than from your passion.
The next step is to set up tabletop simulation drills of your plans with stakeholders. The goal here is to push past your comfort zone to try and find the point where your new plan could break so you can better identify new stresses and failures that you would have never thought could exist. Only after identification can they be addressed and corrected.
Then, once every so often, try to appreciate the opportunity COVID-19 has given us to understand and address points of risk. And remember. if Ford, Edison and Churchill had not pushed forward the world would be very different today.
About the author. In his role as accreditation advisor, Greg Cochran is responsible for delivering accreditation and regulatory services to members encompassing hospital, ambulatory and critical access organizations. He provides content expertise on CMS conditions of participation and The Joint Commission (TJC) accreditation standards interpretation. Additionally, Cochran performs project management services for all accreditation services activities, including compliance assessments, on-site or virtual coaching during TJC surveys, and delivering educational presentations on accreditation and CMS compliance topics. Prior to joining Vizient, Cochran worked for eight years as a life safety surveyor for TJC. He has more than 28 years of experience managing the physical environment, which includes 24 years of hospital safety and facilities management programs and services in a variety of health care settings.