March 7, 2011

Professors Publish Hospital Handbook

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The Cornell Institute for Disease and Disaster Preparedness has produced a handbook that assists hospitals nationwide in preparing for emergencies ranging from bioterrorism to earthquakes.

The project, released in early December, was the first federally-financed guide to hospital emergency preparedness procedures, according to a University press release. To produce the guide, IDDP organized and classified the emergency procedures and regulations of hospitals across the nation.

Titled “Hospital Preparedness Exercises Atlas of Resources and Tools,” the handbook was conceived and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said Prof. Nathaniel Hupert, public health, co-director of IDDP. It is now publicly distributed on the agency’s website.

A team of 10 first-year medical students at Weill Cornell Medical College, led by Hupert, compiled the project by collecting and analyzing guidelines for emergency procedures that had been published by federal and state agencies.

“We actually wound up whittling down the number of documents to around 200, and then we developed a way of capturing what we thought were the important features of these evaluations,” Hupert said.

According to the AHRQ website, the handbook is targeted at hospital staff who are developing specific emergency procedures.

Cayuga Medical Center emergency preparedness coordinator Kathy Powers, R.N., said there are many exercise drills hospital workers regularly perform to maintain emergency preparedness. These activities range from simple demonstrations to functional exercises involving role-players, she said.

The handbook also includes information on how hospitals can get financial assistance from federal and state agencies for developing emergency programs. Hupert listed Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements as some of the types of compensation offered.

According to Powers, government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency have recently begun bolstering emergency preparedness in hospitals as a result of  “lessons learned from events like Katrina and September 11th.”

Cayuga Medical Center currently implements regulations similar to those found within the handbook and receives funding for emergency preparedness from the New York State Department of Health, Powers said.

Although the handbook is intended for hospital staff, Ben Kuo, associate director of environmental health and safety at Cornell, said he saw possible applications to emergency preparedness at Cornell.

Kuo, who called the handbook a “good collection of resources and tools,” said that his department would specifically refer to content within the handbook when conducting emergency exercises. He named several procedures in the handbook that Cornell already uses.

“The one thing that is the tie between the Cornell campus and what this guide has is really around the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program,” Kuo said. “[HSEEP] is a guide on how you should do drills and exercises, and that’s a specific area that we want to improve on here at Cornell.”

Kuo added that the office also uses the Incident Command System and the National Incident Management System, two additional sets of guidelines found in the handbook, for campus events such as Slope Day. ICS and NIMS are templates created by FEMA that advise safety management on emergency responses, he said.

In September 2010, the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools awarded Cornell a $587,684 two-year grant to help improve its emergency preparedness procedures, Kuo said.

Although Hupert said he has no plans to revise the handbook in the future, he hopes that his project laid the groundwork for more advancements in hospital preparedness.

“At some point in the future I imagine that another hospital survey will need to be done,” Hubert said. “We’ve got the framework now. If someone wanted to update it in the future, I think they will be able to use this.”

Original Author: Dennis Liu