Winter Storm Prep Issues for Medical Practices

February 11, 2014

Here are some tips to keep your medical practice and your patients safe during what is shaping up to be a tough winter across the US.

Another snowstorm, perhaps worse than the first one, arrives today in Atlanta and a whole new series of storms grips the central US and the east coast. Today, we share some expert advice on vital storm prep and survival issues that every medical practice leader must consider for their practices, families, and patients.

As I mentioned when I shared my personal experiences about the storm in Atlanta last week, a smartphone and car phone charger were vital survival tools that got us through unfamiliar streets, kept us in touch with a family member we were separated from and allowed us to get news from other drivers about traffic conditions. It was also fortunate we had a four-wheel drive vehicle and a full gas tank. I was stuck in warm car in traffic as opposed to others stuck in a cold one, out of gas on the side of the road.

Relying heavily on the info provided by FEMA at www.Ready.gov here are some issues to consider before and during a severe winter storm. This is good information to share with patients, either on your practice website, or through hand-outs during the winter months.

Before the Storm

Think days in advance and examine your practice’s internal procedures for notifying employees and patients of any required office closures including detailed instructions on your office voicemail and website, if possible. It is your responsibility to protect yourself, your staff, and your patients from additional travel risk. Consider advising them to stock up on vital medications and whether they should move to areas where they have access to emergency or required care (like dialysis) if they are in a particularly vulnerable physical or mental state.

Create an emergency kit that includes things like rock salt or other products to melt ice on walkways, sand (or kitty litter) to improve traction, snow shovels and other snow removal equipment, alternate heating fuel (like firewood) in case you use lose gas or power, and adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm. Be conscious of what you are burning and the ventilation and never use outdoor coal grills inside for cooking or heat as they are both a fire hazard and a carbon dioxide poison risk that kills a surprising number of people.

Check weather band radio or news channels for critical information from the National Weather Service and local authorities. Consider a radio that allows it to be solar or hand crank charged. If travel is necessary, keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. Finally, don’t forget to bring pets inside during winter weather and to move other animals or livestock to shelter with access to non-frozen drinking water and adequate food supplies.

During The Storm

Stay indoors during the storm and walk carefully on icy outdoor walkways. Be careful that you, your staff, and patients avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion and heart attacks are a major cause of death in the winter.

Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly. Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia including uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.

If you must drive, try to travel during the day and avoid traveling alone. Keep others informed of your schedule and stay on main roads avoiding remote shortcuts. Always let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way help can be sent along the route you said you’d take.

If pipes freeze at your medical practice or home, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate). Maintain proper ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene and similar heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your residence colder than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms. If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home and office, set to a temperature no of at least 55ºF. If your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold you can find designated public shelter by texting SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).