Responding to unforeseen disasters in a large health system


PURPOSE: To describe how health systems may respond to sudden changes in operations by leveraging existing resources and to share one organization's experience responding to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

SUMMARY: In a health system based in Illinois and Wisconsin, pharmacy services are provided by a single, integrated department responsible for all aspects of pharmaceutical care within the organization. Hospital, retail, ambulatory care, and population health services are all managed under one leadership team. All pertinent ancillary services are also managed within the department, including informatics, supply chain, and drug policy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmacy services leadership has successfully managed volume and capacity challenges by redirecting resources to where they are needed. A disaster response framework based on Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance was put in place, and change management principles were used to rapidly operationalize change. Components of the nimble response have included quickly increasing capacity, thoughtful and timely communication to all team members, strategic decision making with available data, creating an agile pool of labor, and maintaining an efficient system supply chain. Well-being and resilience are emphasized alongside reflection on lessons learned. Some changes made in the urgent response to the pandemic are being considered for long-term implementation.

CONCLUSION: Organizations have the potential to respond to almost any situation if they are integrated and teams work together to build flexibility. The keys to success are thoughtful maximization of existing resources and strong communication.

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