CMS Emergency Preparedness Plan: The 6 pillars you need in a communications plan

Emergency preparedness plan

In late 2016 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) introduced their Emergency Preparedness Rule with the goal of establishing national requirements so care providers have an adequate emergency preparedness plan ahead of natural or man-made disasters. 

Having the right tools in place so staff can focus on the task at hand while keeping residents and families in the know has become paramount as we all know how fast emergency situations can change. While a complete emergency preparedness plan has many components and parts, CMS has four main pillars. They are:

  • Risk assessment and planning
  • Policies and procedures
  • Testing and training 
  • Communications plan

We’ll be focusing on the last pillar and the many components that are required to create a fulsome communication plan which meets the CMS requirements. 

Emergency preparedness planning: the 6 components

Make it quick

“It is essential that facilities have the capacity to respond in a timely and appropriate manner in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. 

When an emergency occurs, you respond immediately with your actions. Responding with communications is no different. 

To ensure communications are timely and accurate, automated broadcast notifications that can reach an entire care community at the press of a button can reduce outreach time from hours to minutes. 

Better yet? An interoperable system that is connected to your EHR, guaranteeing all contact information is in one place and up to date. An emergency is not the time for several spreadsheets and systems.

Make it known

“A method for sharing information from the emergency plan that the facility has determined is appropriate with residents and their families or representatives.”

Outreach communications serve several purposes; not only does it make resident family members aware of the situation, but when the information comes proactively from the source (rather than heard on the news or from another resident family member) it instills confidence that the situation is under control thereby reducing anxiety.

The regulations also require facilities to provide information about the general condition and location of residents. This can all be accomplished with a mass notification.

Proactively communicating also reduces inbound calls and inquiries which can interrupt staff making them less effective. Or, staff can ignore inbound calls causing stress that the situation is worse than it is.

Make it accessible

Consistency is key. You don’t want things getting lost in translation. Literally. 

Communities and families are diverse, and English is not always the language most widely spoken by your care community. Having pre-written templated messages in several languages ensures that all recipients get the exact same information. 

Templates also make for speedy sending. Simply adjust the information to meet the specific situation while maintaining tone, authority and key points. 

Make it trackable

“Your communication platform is required to document communication.”

Senior care facilities are aware that they need to track and log their crisis communications in case of an audit from CMS. Manual logging is not only time-consuming but can also be full of errors and omissions because multiple staff members track and log their calls separately.

A broadcast system which is integrated with your EHR ensures logs are automatically created. Ensuring you are consistent and compliant. 

Make it reliable

“It is appropriate and vitally important for facilities to have some alternate means to communicate during an emergency.”

Your emergency plan also needs a backup plan. Facilities cannot rely solely on a telephone system which might go down under extreme emergencies. Consider systems such as:

  • Two-way radios for internal communications
  • A satellite phone
  • Ham radio operators
  • Automated Broadcast Systems

Any systems should be tested regularly, and drills should be run to ensure appropriate staff know how to use any tools or systems.

Make it collaborative

 “A facility [must] have a process for ensuring cooperation and collaboration with local, tribal, regional, state, or federal emergency preparedness officials’ efforts to ensure an integrated response during a disaster or emergency situation.”

Whether it’s a fire, tornado or outbreak, a facility may need to coordinate shelter in place or evacuation efforts with first responders. The transfer of patients to a hospital or emergency care center could also call for inter-team collaboration.

Tailoring an emergency preparedness plan to meet your needs

The proposed emergency preparedness regulations provide the minimum requirements that facilities must follow. This allows facilities, large and small, rural and urban, the flexibility to develop the communication portion of their emergency preparedness plan to meet their needs. You can’t control when and where an emergency will happen, but you can control your response to it.

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