Emergency Preparedness

Healthcare Facilities Can Prepare for Disaster and Recover Quicker with FEMA Assistance

Last year, the United States saw 20 weather- and climate-related disasters with losses that exceeded $1 billion—each. These events included flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, and more. Tragically, they left 688 people dead and created significant economic challenges in the areas the storms hit. These disasters were in addition to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to provide its own hurdles.

Hospitals are vital facilities in a community at the best of times and especially during a disaster. Healthcare facilities that can care for patients and provide shelter and services in what may be the community’s greatest hour of need allow a community to weather the storm and bounce back afterward. If not, the hospital itself becomes another burden.

Hospitals can’t wait until they’re in the path of a weather event to prepare. Preparation needs to begin now.

Hazard Mitigation

Climate change is making disasters more frequent and more intense. Healthcare facilities that were previously at risk for natural disasters such as hurricanes are now at risk for more powerful and disruptive storms. Facilities that certain weather events may not have directly threatened may see new threats. Healthcare systems have to identify and calculate their new risk and plan accordingly. Fortunately, financial assistance is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

For facilities at risk for disasters, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants can provide funding for eligible mitigation measures to reduce disaster losses. When a facility can reduce or eliminate long-term risks to people and property from future disasters, they can also break the cycle of disaster damage, reconstruction, and repeated damage. Mitigation efforts are a long-term solution to benefit not just the physical facility, but also the greater community. FEMA will pay 75% of the expenses accrued when mitigating disasters through improvements such as hurricane-proof windows, stronger roofs, improvements to the building envelope, and installation of flood walls. For example, one facility recently received $78 million in mitigation grants to install a flood wall and strengthen the building structure.

This investment ensures the facility is available during a disaster and protects the facility’s infrastructure. In turn, mitigation can help with insurance costs—by reducing risk, you can also reduce the cost of your policy.

Natural Disaster Preparation

Mitigating risks don’t end when a storm hits, so preparing for disasters shouldn’t start when the forecast calls for torrential rains. Healthcare facilities must have a plan for preempting potential disasters. Of course, this includes acquiring items like backup generators, but it also means having a plan to track the administrative documents facilities will need for filing insurance afterward. Emergency management teams need to be trained for the important work of saving every receipt, taking “before” pictures, and procuring local help correctly. When insurance claims are filed, this ensures facilities have all of the necessary information to show the disaster’s effect on the facility in order to get the full benefit of their insurance policy.

Too often, healthcare facilities approach disaster insurance after the fact. The prevailing mindset is to get through the disaster, then figure out filing insurance. Unfortunately, in the weeks following a disaster, healthcare facilities can lose receipts or take the wrong photos of damage or fail to procure help in the right way, especially as they’re simultaneously caring for their community. This means a facility will not get the most of its insurance policy and can lose money on subsequent repair costs.

After the Disaster

Insurance alone may not be enough to repair facilities after a natural disaster, especially when the facilities need to stay open during repairs and bounce back as quickly as possible. FEMA can provide assistance here, as well.

FEMA will help state, local, tribal and territorial governments, as well as certain private nonprofit organizations, respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies. Any costs that private nonprofit healthcare systems incur following a disaster that are not covered by insurance can be provided by FEMA’s Public Assistance Program. Following disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, or wildfires, FEMA will reimburse 75%-100% of systems’ costs for services such as debris removal, overtime pay to workers, procurement of special equipment like chainsaws or generators, and repair to damaged equipment or infrastructure.

If a facility has all the right receipts, photos, and documentation of working with local governments that were collected before the storm, facilities will be more successful in receiving FEMA’s full assistance, just as if the facility were filing insurance claims.

FEMA’s website has information on the Public Assistance Program and the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Grants to help teams get started. FEMA works hand-in-hand with each state’s emergency management agency, so healthcare facility professionals should also work alongside state agencies when pursuing funding. City or county emergency management agencies may also be able to assist in securing funding, so it’s important to continue building and cultivating relationships with local agencies to both prepare for and mitigate disasters.

Too many hospitals are missing out on this available funding. These programs exist to ease the burden of disaster preparation and recovery. Facilities should already have receipts, photos, and documents from their administrative preparation, and relaying these documents to a grant application is not much more work than already needed for insurance. Weather-related disasters are more prevalent than they once were, but no healthcare facility needs to navigate these new challenges alone.

Scott Cormier is the Vice President of Emergency Management, Environment of Care (EOC), and Safety at Medxcel. Cormier leads the development and implementation of emergency management, general safety, and accident-prevention programs for the national network of hospitals that Medxcel serves.