What Should Healthcare Facilities Do in Outbreak Situations?
Healthcare facilities across the country deliver expert medical care to millions of patients each year. Patients deserve compassionate, accurate, and safe healthcare, with each facility being responsible for providing this care. As part of routine operations, hospitals and clinics have rigorous infection control practices in place, helping to protect the health of their patients and staff members. No matter how careful, however, infection outbreaks can and do occur. While healthcare facility insurance is part of the overall risk management strategy when an outbreak occurs, there are other steps these facilities can take when the unexpected happens.
Case Study: New Jersey Viral Outbreak
A long-term healthcare facility in New Jersey was the location of a severe outbreak of the adenovirus, a virus that can produce flu-like symptoms in most people but one that poses risks to those with compromised immune systems. Eighteen pediatric patients of the New Jersey facility fell victim to the virus, and six children died as a result of the infection outbreak. The same facility had experienced below-average ratings on health inspections in years prior to the outbreak; investigators found that the facility had failed to follow established infection control practices. Lax staff handwashing practices and failure to follow cross-contamination protocols were pinpointed as the causes of the tragic 2018 virus outbreak.
The outbreak itself was complicated by the fact that the medical facility did not report the illnesses in a timely manner. In fact, almost two weeks went by before parents of patients were notified of the disease outbreak. The facility claimed that it had alerted the appropriate healthcare regulatory authorities of the outbreak, but it remains unclear when and how this alert happened.
Preparing for an Illness Outbreak
What can healthcare facilities do to protect their patients and staff from the spread of infectious diseases? Faced with the prevalence of dangerous bacteria and viruses that can lead to severe illness or death, medical care facilities must be prepared to address outbreaks even before they occur.
The key to a successful infection outbreak response is in communication. All stakeholders, including staff members, administrators, patients, and family members, must be able to communicate clearly and honestly with each other. This includes alerting regulators should an outbreak occur. Sharing information can eliminate much of the confusion experienced during an outbreak and ensures that the appropriate regulatory agencies are notified in a timely manner.
Assembling a team of experts is another way that healthcare facilities can address infectious disease outbreaks even before they endanger lives. Infection control experts have the knowledge and the experience needed to monitor outbreak conditions and to mitigate certain risks to patients and caregivers. These experts also have established protocols with which to work from, including protocols set by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Choosing an established infection control protocol streamlines the response process, allowing all members to work from the same guide and to help eliminate any conflicting information.
Finally, healthcare facilities must continue to address the possibility of a disease outbreak even before it happens by implementing a rigorous and thorough staff training program. Routine training on handwashing techniques and infection control practices helps to reduce the threat of an outbreak, helping caregivers to understand what is expected of them at each patient interaction. Facility insurance goes a long way toward mitigating the liability risks associated with a disease outbreak. Training staff and ensuring the free exchange of information are two of the leading methods by which medical care facilities can prevent disease outbreaks and respond appropriately if an outbreak were to occur.
About Caitlin Morgan
Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 317.575.4440.