Does your disaster plan meet needs of ED nurses?

Do you expect that nurses will come straight to the ED in the event of a major disaster, regardless of their personal needs? Not according to the findings of one new study.

Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in conjunction with the Greater New York Hospital Association, both based in New York City, surveyed 5,816 New York health care workers about their willingness to return to work in the event of disasters such as an explosion with mass casualties or a chemical attack. Most of the respondents stated that personal priorities, such as childcare, caring for elderly family members, and pet care, would be their first concern.

This emphasizes the importance of realistic planning, says Mary Casey-Lockyer, RN, BSN, CCRN, emergency response coordinator at Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights, IL. To meet the personal needs of ED nurses in your disaster plan, do the following:

• Be realistic about how many ED nurses actually would report if called back to work for a mass-casualty event.

If you anticipate that a low number of nurses will report, you will be better prepared in the event of a disaster, says Casey-Lockyer. "Many of our staff have multiple places of employment and family commitments that would override our directions to return to work," she says. "However, the more we realize these forces are at work, the better we can mitigate these factors."

You can expand child care

• Consider creating a child/elder/pet care center.

ED nurses should be surveyed to assess the need for this, or it may be that the capacity of these areas needs to be increased at your facility, says Casey-Lockyer. Northwest Community’s disaster plan states that the campus wellness center and staff will be used to expand the existing child care area to accommodate family members of staff called to return to work in the event of a disaster, she notes.

• Encourage ED nurses to create a family disaster plan.

All ED nurses are given a family disaster-planning handbook, developed internally, and this handbook is given to new nurses at orientation, says Casey-Lockyer. 

For example, the handbook recommends that a trusted neighbor be authorized to care for children, elders, and/or pets, which could enable ED nurses to return to work.

"This is the recommended approach, as many staff may not want to bring family members to work if an infectious agent was the cause of the disaster," says Casey-Lockyer. "Biannually, leadership is encouraged to remind their staff to update these family disaster plans."