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HFM seminar lauds crisis planning

HFM seminar lauds crisis planning


Hospital foodservice management on a good day is fraught with enough variables to keep directors on their toes. Now, imagine the electricity goes out—for weeks. That was just one of the scenarios about 200 members of the National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management, or HFM, envisioned during a recent Web-based seminar designed to help participants in their disaster planning.

The program, titled “Protecting Your Facility From Natural Disasters and Pandemics … What To Do Now To Prepare,” was designed in partnership with the Uriah Group, a Falls Church, Va.-based consulting firm specializing in risk management and safety assessment. The program, held late last month, was moderated by Gordon Meriwether, founder of Uriah Group, and featured panelists Carolyn Ruck, principal of Alameda, Calif.-based consulting firm Ruck-Shockey Associates, and Greg Pallaske, director of regulatory compliance for food safety and quality assurance at Columbia, Md.-based broadline distributor U.S. Foodservice.

“This is a very volatile world we live in,” Meriwether said. “One thing [Hurricane] Katrina did for me was it really underlined the differences between chaos and stability. You never know what will tip the scales and make a stable situation turn into something very chaotic.”

The best way to manage in a crisis is to be flexible and adjust your plan accordingly, Meriwether said.

“When things turn chaotic, you have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said. “Long-term predictions are no more accurate than random choice. And in a crisis situation, chaos increases exponentially.”

Outside stress factors, such as business goals, competition and geopolitical pressures, also impact the work environment. “The more required human judgment there is, the more potential for chaos,” he said.

Pretend that the electricity went off, he said. “What would you do?” he asked. “How would you operate your hospital—survive for weeks, if not months, before a recovery plan could be put into place? You need to be thinking outside the box. Think about the what-ifs and talk with your staff about it. And listen to what they have to say, because they will have some good ideas.”

Meriwether stressed the need to be familiar with the federal government’s National Incident Management System, or NIMS, when dealing with an emergency.

“NIMS was designed to be very flexible and adaptable to any environment your team finds itself in,” he said. “It calls for an incident commander who is in charge at the federal, state and local levels.”

Still, he noted, it is important to know who would be managing resources and assets in an emergency.

“That’d be an area I’d lean on,” he said. “Also prioritize your vulnerabilities. And have foodservice designated as a critical resource.”

Meriwether added that foodservice directors must know how long critical resources would last; which resources would need to be resupplied; when and who would be vaccinated in the event of a pandemic outbreak; and who would receive food deliveries and prepare meals.

“Know how you will get deliveries through,” he said. “Don’t treat it as an addendum.”

Pallaske of U.S. Foodservice said one of the most important factors to consider during a disaster is what the standard operating procedures would be.

“Create a system so food safety is assured at your facility,” he said. “Make sure everyone is doing things in the right way. Build in quality control every step of the way and demand that of everyone you work with as well.”

He also noted the importance of having a backup plan in place in case food deliveries can’t be made.

“Talk to the health care manager about what you would need to order in a crisis situation and have agreements with other facilities in the area in case your distributor can’t get supplies to you,” Pallaske said. “Know who the decision makers are at your distributor’s facilities, and they should know who makes the decisions at your [organization].”

Ruck said one of the most important things to do in a crisis is to keep operations as flexible as possible and be prepared for anything.

“We all recognize there is a lot involved in planning for an emergency,” she said, “but one thing is very important, and that is to keep in mind the flexibility and simplicity of your policies so your staff can think on their feet, because when disaster happens it’s hard to predict how things will work out.”

Ruck said all health care foodservice directors should make sure to have at least 96 hours of supplies available to them during a disaster. They also should have an idea of how many people they would have to feed.

It is also helpful to know what other local organizations do in terms of disaster planning and what you would need to do in worst-case scenarios, she said.

“Part of your planning should include looking at the short term,” Ruck said. “You might be able to utilize MREs for a few days and bulk nonperishables for another few days. Have a disaster menu using nonperishable products in place. And keep in mind that in disaster situations most dietary restrictions are loosened.”

Water is even more necessary than food, she said.

“Planning for drinking needs vary depending on the resources your hospital has,” she said. “You may have access to water towers or an easy supply, but plan on at least a couple of gallons per person per day as a good safety net. It’s the most important thing we need.”

Finally, Meriwether said communication—within the health care organization and with the media—is key to achieving a positive outcome in chaotic situations.

“Prepare for crisis,” he said.“Target communications, target the audience, the message and the medium. It’s all about how you get the message out.”

New York-based HFM represents about 2,000 foodservice professionals at acute, extended and long-term care facilities and suppliers in North America.

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