When Severe Weather, Other Community Emergencies Occur, Well-Prepared Wellmont Facilities Respond

When the inevitable summer storms thunder through the region, hospitals must be prepared to cope with resulting emergencies that can impact the community.

But as the tornadoes in Oklahoma recently showed, a hospital can suffer damage as well. That means the hospital might also need assistance in the aftermath of such natural disasters.

Preparing for the unexpected is the mission of Alan Bagley, recently appointed system manager of emergency management for Wellmont Health System.

Wellmont operates eight hospitals and more than 30 ambulatory facilities in Tennessee and Virginia. A first step in preparing an emergency plan for the system is creating an inventory of the hospitals' individual action plans.

"We want to identify all Wellmont hospital assets and resources in order to come to one another's aid during any disaster," said Jim Moore, Wellmont's vice president of facilities. "This collaboration is essential in ensuring a continuity of care when major incidents happen in the community."

Bagley said Wellmont's goal is to handle its own needs for 72 hours and not have to rely immediately on outside rescue services. To that end, he said, Wellmont has stockpiles of medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and durable medical equipment for use in any emergency.

Patient safety is another important factor.

"How we evacuate our patients during an emergency is a key question and reinforces the need for all facilities to have the same policies and procedures," Bagley said.

He said it is necessary to look at characteristics of the community where each hospital is located and determine, for example, what environmental factors and disaster scenarios are more likely to come into play.

"It's a pretty big task, but it's extremely important to ensure the safety of our patients and protect the facilities we need to continue delivering superior health care," he said.

Wellmont must choose wisely in applying for state and federal grant funds to purchase much-needed emergency supplies and equipment because funds can be limited, Moore said. One of the successful instances was a grant, which Moore coordinated with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office, for a new generator.

"Not long ago, we volunteered to bring together several pieces of equipment, purchased with regional grant funds provided by the state of Tennessee, to develop a complete trailer-mounted emergency generator, with support assets," Moore said. "This provides portable backup power during an emergency to 13 hospitals in Northeast Tennessee."

Wellmont was the first beneficiary. This piece of equipment supplied much-needed emergency power to a building at Holston Valley Medical Center when a high-voltage transformer failed one day, leading to termination of the hospital's normal and emergency power system.

Wellmont is also pursuing a grant to purchase a mobile hospital, which would receive power from this generator. This mobile hospital could be essential in localized and regional pandemic events or mass casualties in which off-site isolation capabilities are necessary or preferred, Moore said.

With a diverse number of manufacturers in the region, Wellmont is ready to assist should any medical emergencies arise with these companies. For example, Wellmont recently sent personnel to Anniston, Ala., for decontamination training.

"This area has lots of industry, and with that comes the possibility for incidents involving hazardous materials," Bagley said. "So while our partners in these companies work diligently to minimize and hopefully eliminate this potential, we prepare to help them with any medical care that might be needed."

Wellmont also has a regional mobile hazmat vehicle, mobile medical trailers and multiple warehouses. That empowers the system to place whatever items are necessary in the location that has a great need.

During an emergency, water is a critically important resource for a healthcare facility. Wellmont's facilities division has implemented a potable water strategy that includes tanker truck external potable water connections to an internal pumping system, which is able to pressurize selected areas of our facilities. It also features drinking water stockpiles and memorandums of understanding with water supply vendors to ensure this resource is available during extended water outages. 

"It's essential for healthcare facilities to have multiple sources in order to maintain operations during all types of emergencies. We will continue to be innovative in our thinking as we develop different solutions that work for our patients and communities, which we are privileged to serve," Moore said.