Same-Day Surgery Manager

Lessons are learned in latest weather crisis

By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
Earnhart & Associates
Austin, TX

What a wonderful winter it has been in America! Snow and ice and everything nice. Stalled cars, streets shut down, schools closed, general chaos tempered with gleeful, giddy, schoolchildren and frustrated parents. Ahh, global warming at its best!

And, pray tell, how did your surgery schedule fare? A couple of canceled cases maybe? Perhaps more than a few? And we all learned . . . what? The country has been hit with multiple storms one right after the next. This was not a "one-day-out-of-the-year" event that inconvenienced us. This already has been a budget-killing year! The "suits" are freaking out in the administrative wing.

But seriously, how did you handle this crisis? It was one, you know, especially to those who had their surgery canceled because they couldn't get out of their driveway or their surgeon's flight from the Bahamas was canceled. At the very least, it was a great disappointment. So what did you do? How did you contact your patients? Your staff? Your surgeons? No answer required, but something to ponder and learn from for the next apocalyptic event.

Did you pay your staff for the time the facility was not doing elective surgery? You could be like the airlines and say it was an "act of God," and you are not responsible. Some did pay staff. I would rather work for those that did myself. I am sure some of your staff — for those who didn't — are dusting off their resumes.

Bottom line: These storms were a good lesson for all of us. Hopefully, your outcome was not all bad. Historically, most canceled cases become rescheduled cases, and life goes on.

I called some of my facilities during the height of some of the storms, just to see how they were making out. Many had staff stranded at the hospital or surgery center, bored silly. Deciding that being productive was better than just sitting around, many of the facilities redid preference cards, labeled supplies with unit pricing, did inventory, ate all the patient refreshments, blew up latex gloves with surgical air, had wheelchair races, and told ghost stories (my favorite!)

Here are some other tasks they accomplished:

• Shoveling out.

Those staff members that were trapped received pay for their time at the center, and those who couldn't get in were paid for two days or were able to take vacation time. As it should be. Most helped each other find their cars (not as easy as it sounds!) and then dig them out.

• Rescheduling.

Most facilities were accommodating to their canceled cases by extending their hours of operations and even running an elective Saturday schedule to catch up. There were rare complaints.

• Planning ahead.

I know that most of us will be much better prepared when this type of event happens again. Be it snow, blizzards, mudslides, fire, or pestilence, we will be armed with experience on our side. Take serious note of what worked and what didn't during all the chaos that February brought us and, as the Boy Scouts say, "Be prepared!" [Earnhart & Associates is a consulting firm specializing in all aspects of outpatient surgery development and management. Contact Earnhart at 13492 Research Blvd., Suite 120-258, Austin, TX 78750-2254. E-mail: Web: Tweet address: Earnhart_EAI.]