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Improving Emergency Management in Long-Term Care Facilities

Effective emergency management is critical for long-term care facilities (LTCFs) to ensure regulatory compliance and improve patient care. But many LTCFs still rely on cumbersome manual processes. Equipped with tools like Juvare’s eICS, LTCFs can take charge of their emergency management and incident response processes. Here’s how. 

 LTCFs have endured a difficult two years. First, it was patients disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a staffing shortage that even optimistic providers expect to last through the end of 2022. And in the midst of these challenges, LTCFs — historically exempt from many CMS rules for incident response and management — were tasked to comply with National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) regulations. 

But CMS directives are one thing; effectively implementing them is another. Solutions such as Juvare’s eICS electronic incident command system can help LTCFs make the move from legacy incident response plans to agile and effective hospital incident command system (HICS) frameworks. 

Challenges of Emergency Management in Long-Term Care 

Long-term care facilities face a number of unique challenges when it comes to effective emergency management.  

First is the reliance of LTCFs on paper-based HICS plans. Many care facilities rely on physical documentation to define HICS objectives and responsibilities without the interconnected tools and technologies capable of supporting company-wide plans. Not only does this introduce the potential for data entry errors and lost documents, but it also makes it almost impossible for teams to effectively respond when an emergency occurs. To execute the plan, staff have to find the documentation in person, then identify and apply the relevant sections. 

LTCFs also face significant challenges in the event of an evacuation. Thanks to a growing gap between the number of skilled care staff and the number of patients in care, decentralized emergency management processes make it almost impossible for LTCFs to ensure that all patients are safe and accounted for. This leads to potential liability — if patients’ lives are put at risk because emergency plans weren’t effective, companies could face legal, regulatory, and reputational consequences.  

Benefits of Effective HICS Deployment for Care Facilities 

By deploying Juvare’s centralized cloud-based eICS solution, LTCFs can both comply with CMS directives and derive additional benefits such as: 

Reduced liability 

Provider liability has been a point of discussion for the past few years as the global pandemic exposed gaps in the long-term care system. And while the immediate threat of COVID-19 infection is receding, there’s growing pressure from patients, their families, and government agencies to ensure that LTCFs are capable of better responding to any type of emergency as it happens. 

eICS helps companies reduce total liability by providing a centralized and easily accessible set of HICS guides arranged by topic. Rather than forcing staff to wade through policy numbers and codes, the Juvare solution uses plain language. Staff simply start typing in the nature of the issue they’ve encountered and eICS provides a checklist of steps to effectively deal with the situation.  

From an executive perspective, the implementation of effective emergency management tools isn’t a budget line item but an insurance policy. By ensuring that staff have the information they need, when they need it, LTCF C-suites can proactively limit their liability and reduce the risk of potential damage to both reputations and revenues. 

Automated hazard assessments 

eICS also includes automated hazard vulnerability assessments. Potential hazards are scored based on their severity and impact on LTCF operations; then, a list of the top existing hazards is generated to provide actionable insight into hazard remediation. 

Hazard lists can be generated based on current licensure, LTCF location, facility type, or on a company-wide basis, in turn making it possible for long-term care providers to address both specific and general concerns. 

Role-based response 

Role-based access and response makes it possible for staff to quickly respond as emergencies occur and ensure that the right people have the right access to the right data when they need it. Roles can be assigned based on company position and current location and can be further refined to include both full and limited staff members. For example, a limited staff member volunteering or working only occasionally could receive alerts about emergencies but wouldn’t be able to start emergency response incidents.  

Here’s how it works in practice: If a staff member encounters an emergency, they access eICS and find the relevant entry. The software then automatically sends an alert to all staff and contacts loaded into that facility and provides response information relevant to their role. Staff automatically get access to the incident activity logs, making it easy to share information and determine next steps. In addition, this role-based approach allows organizations to designate an “incident commander” for the current event or operational period. The messaging functionality within eICS connects staff with commanders — and since this function is role-based, staff don’t need to worry about figuring out who’s in charge; instead, choosing the position lets them get right to work.   

Making it Work: Streamlining the Incident Response Process Across LTCFs 

Cloud-based solutions that eliminate the need for paper records are the first step in effective incident response. But for these solutions to be effective at scale, they must also make it easy for staff to respond when an emergency occurs. Consider a fire in one wing of a long-term care center. Those nearest the fire find themselves occupied as they look to contain the damage and move residents out of harm’s way. Those in other parts of the facility may not even be aware of the incident until smoke detectors start going off; even then, it may be difficult to pinpoint the location. 

eICS streamlines incident response by allowing staff to access HICS documentation anytime and anywhere with full support for mobile devices. When an emergency occurs, those nearest the incident simply access the app and select the issue in progress. This triggers the automatic notification of other staff members, in turn allowing response assets to head toward the emergency, rather than waiting for specific direction from busy incident responders. 

Bottom line? For LTCFs to align with CMS requirements and better manage emergencies, they need cloud-based data collection and documentation that drives intelligent and informed decision-making and makes it possible for them to respond on-demand when the unexpected occurs. 

David J. Wojs, Jr. is Senior Director of Public Health and Healthcare at Juvare. 

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