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Healthcare facilities hit by suspected murder-suicide in Texas and wildfire in California … both reminders to be prepared

By Michael Boardman, CEO, Readiness Associates


A fatal shooting in southern Texas and a raging wildfire in northern California provided the latest tragic evidence that healthcare organizations must take the threats of man-made and natural disasters more seriously.

Fatal shooting at nursing center

Five people died July 27 in a suspected murder-suicide at the 94-bed Retama Manor Nursing Center and at a nearby home in Robstown, Texas. Two of the victims were residents at the nursing center.

"Our hearts go out to the victims' families and the residents, visitors and employees at Retama Manor who experienced this tragedy," Robstown Police Chief Erasmo Flores said in a Robstown Police Department release.

Wildfire threatens hospital

As the lethal Carr Fire swept through Redding, California, in late July, flames approached Dignity Health Mercy Medical Center, a 267-bed regional facility. Officials quickly made the difficult decision to evacuate five infants from the center’s neonatal intensive care unit. The babies were airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

“Five NICU babies were transported to hospitals out of the area overnight,” Mike Mangas of the center’s communications office reported on Twitter. “No other transfers are anticipated. We’ve had 8 patients treated in the Emergency Room, 3 of them firefighters, none of their injuries serious.”

Medical center employees lose their homes

Mangas further tweeted: “My heart is breaking for my friends who have lost homes, but it’s encouraging to see they have not lost hope. As of Friday afternoon, 32 Dignity Health employees and physicians have lost their homes, but Mercy Medical Center in Redding is open and fully operational.”

In a July 27 news release, Mercy Medical Center stated: “We do not plan to evacuate any other patients at this time, but have contingency plans in place should the situation necessitate. Patient safety continues to remain our top priority.”

All healthcare facilities must prepare

The Robstown shooting and the Redding wildfire reminded healthcare officials across the country of the importance of fully preparing their facilities – regardless of size – for disasters of all kinds. Recognizing that urgent need, in November 2017 the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services implemented the CMS Emergency Preparedness Program. The program requires that organizations perform risk assessment and planning and develop policies and procedures, a communications plan, and a training and testing program.

Professionals are ready to assist

That might seem to be a daunting task, but nursing homes, hospitals and other healthcare providers need not go it alone. They can consult with outside emergency preparedness/response professionals in their efforts to make their facilities more secure and resilient.