March 08, 2010 | | Comments 0
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Nurse firings during emergency response should trigger an HVA assessment on your end

Any of you been following the headlines regarding Washington (DC) Hospital Center firing a handful of staff for calling in to work during blizzards in February?

In a nutshell, the hospital has terminated 21 nurses and other essential personnel, saying they allegedly disregarded their duties and ignored attempts by the facility to offer sleeping accommodations or transportation in advance of the storms. About 250 workers in total didn’t show up for the shifts during the storm, and by the looks of it, many of them had valid excuses that the hospital considered.

As for the 21 fired employees, a nurses union has filed a labor grievance with the hospital, so the debate isn’t over yet.

The emergency management implications of such a controversy are widespread. The Joint Commission requires your emergency operations plan to describe how the hospital will support employee needs during disasters (see EM.02.02.07 for details).

But I’ve also been struck by the effect the situation should have on everyone else’s hazard vulnerability analysis (HVA). At the very least, it seems wise to review your HVA’s findings in light of the idea that an emergency may cause a significant amount of the workforce to be absent. How might that factor alter any of the rankings in your HVA? It’s a signficant question.

And your answers should not just be influenced by weather-related emergencies. Think about civil unrest or terrorism, during which staff might be afraid to come to work.

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Scott Wallask About the Author: Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for HCPro's Hospital Safety Center (www.hospitalsafetycenter.com) and the award-winning newsletters, Briefings on Hospital Safety and Healthcare Life Safety Compliance. He has written about healthcare for HCPro since 1998, with a focus on occupational and building safety, emergency management, fire protection, and infection control. Prior to joining HCPro, he worked as a reporter for several newspapers in eastern Massachusetts. He holds a BA in print journalism, magna cum laude, from Northeastern University in Boston. Contact Scott at swallask@hcpro.com.

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