Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guest Post: Disasters Test Hospitals Social Media Strategies

 Disasters Test Hospitals Social Media Strategies

This article is compliments of Erik Braunitzer of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, serving up Luxury Bronx Condos.

Irene was the first major hurricane to affect the East coast since 2008 and caused the 714 bed Stanton Island University Hospital to shut its doors for the first time in 150 years. After patients were quickly shuttled to other area hospitals on Friday, the usually busy facility was eerily quiet.

SIUH Director of Public Affairs Arleen Ryback said, "There were goodbyes and the ambulances and relay teams it just kept coming and coming. It was also very sad for caregivers to see their patients leave, it was very poignant in many respects."

The decision to evacuate was made on Thursday evening, well ahead of Mayor Bloomberg's mandatory evacuation deadline of 8pm Friday. The unprecedented event was chaos free, but left an air of sadness among the staff.

While all hospitals must have a Hospital Emergency Incident Command System in place, few actually ever use it. SIUH recently received a review for HEICS, which concluded that social media was essential for communication during a time of disaster. Ms. Ryback stated, "The reviewers were very impressed that we were set up to use social media in the event of an emergency. Not all hospitals are set up to do that." She went on to say that SIUH wanted to have all communication bases covered for staff, patients and the community.

In the event of disaster, updating staff or the community would be impossible without rapid communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook. Email can't keep up and is often inaccessible during those times. Ms. Ryback said, "We were able to measure and track people's responses during the hurricane. We also sent out notifications to local newspapers and they put the information up on their accounts.”

Some helpful tools for hospitals include widgets from the American Red Cross that are easily placed on blogs or websites, and a Twitter feed from the National Public Health Information Coalition that collects updates from states affected by natural disasters.

Another New York area hospital, North Shore LIJ Health System, has a dedicated YouTube channel. During Hurricane Irene, it showed a video of CEO Michael Dowling talking about the city's evacuation plan. Mr. Dowling is a big advocate of technology in the hospital setting and has said that it plays a large part in the strategic plan of North Shore LIJ.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed his appreciation of medical staff efforts by saying, "[Thank you to those] who carried out the incredibly well-done evacuation of more than 7,000 hospital patients and residents of nursing homes and other residential facilities in the low-lying coastal areas."

Since the hurricane, SIUH has been busy playing host to a lot of media reporters and talking about the historic evacuation. Arleen Ryback was going to show one of the photographers all the empty beds in the emergency section, but to her surprise, they were already filling up again, including two babies in the infirmary.

The hospital is slowly returning to its pre-storm state and the staff is not only happy, but also well-prepared should disaster strike again in the future.

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