Cop­ing with disas­ter in the age of pre­pared­ness, so­cial me­dia and HIPAA

Modern Healthcare - - Front Page - Paul Barr

Re­build­ing a hos­pi­tal dec­i­mated by nat­u­ral disas­ter would be tough enough. St. John’s Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Jo­plin, Mo., faces par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult ob­sta­cles that go be­yond the phys­i­cal de­struc­tion caused by the tor­nado.

Ex­ec­u­tives for 347-bed St. John’s and its par­ent, Sis­ters of Mercy Health Sys­tem, Ch­ester­field, Mo., must con­tinue to man­age the im­me­di­ate needs of the dam­aged hos­pi­tal, its em­ploy­ees and the com­mu­nity. At the same time they must be­gin the long-term work of de­cid­ing what the new St. John’s will look like. They will do so un­der the in­creas­ing de­mands of health­care re­form, with an eye to­ward keep­ing its re­la­tion­ships with re­fer­ring doc­tors, and while bat­tling for pa­tients with a lo­cally based ri­val in a com­pet­i­tive health­care mar­ket, ex­perts say.

In ad­di­tion to those ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenges, St. John’s must sort out the highly un­usual pri­vacy breach of pa­per med­i­cal records fall­ing out of the sky af­ter the tor­nado struck Jo­plin on May 22, forg­ing a three-quar­ter­mile-wide path of near to­tal de­struc­tion es­ti­mated to be six miles long. At dead­line, an es­ti­mated 132 peo­ple had died and 156 were miss­ing, and HHS had de­clared the state a pub­lic health disas­ter area. In the midst of the storm, which blew out the hos­pi­tal’s win­dows and left some walls miss­ing, St. John’s clin­i­cians and staffers evac­u­ated 183 pa­tients to hos­pi­tals nearby and in the re­gion. Of­fi­cials for the hos­pi­tal are un­sure if the re­main­ing build­ing is us­able.

“It will be a chal­lenge” to get St. John’s re­built given what’s hap­pened to the hos­pi­tal it­self and the com­mu­nity, said Brian Haa­pala, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor with con­sul­tancy Stroudwater As­so­ciates, Port­land, Maine. “You have to com­mend the ef­forts of the lead­er­ship of the or­ga­ni­za­tion to resta­bi­lize,” Haa­pala said. And while it’s hard to think about in the mid­dle of a disas­ter, Mercy of­fi­cials will have to start mak­ing de­ci­sions, he said.

Mercy Health and St. John’s vowed to re­build with an ar­ray of ser­vices. “It will def­i­nitely be an acute-care hos­pi­tal,’’ said Lynn Brit­ton, pres­i­dent and CEO of Sis­ters of Mercy Health Sys­tem. “It will be a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to reimag­ine” how to pro­vide health­care in Jo­plin, he said.

As a part of that, Mercy and St. John’s will have some hard ques­tions to an­swer as they


The tor­nado, which blew out win­dows through­out the hos­pi­tal and scat­tered med­i­cal

records around the re­gion, left the in­te­rior of St. John’s in a sham­bles.

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