Operational planning should include a plan for inclement weather. When considering how to handle an upcoming storm, there are only four options. They are (1) Open as usual (2) Close all day (3) Open Late and (4) Close Early. Below are some scenarios you might consider when making your decision.
- Weather predictions- Use a reputable source for reviewing the potential storm threat. Review a national and credible news organization like Weather.com or FEMA or National Weather Service. Consult your favorite local news station to understand the threat level, the time of arrival and the potential path of the storm. Consider wind, ice and the potential weight of the snow and how this may affect your patient and employee safety.
- If you have multiple locations you need to consider all of them. Think about the snow plowing, shoveling of walkways for patients and staff, ensure your heat/electric/water and oil are working. If the locations are leased, outreach to your landlord to confirm services are lined up for the storm. You may need to consider different plans for different locations.
- Ensure parking lots are clear and available for staff and patients to park. Decide if you will have the same hours in all locations, will your urgent care be open? Will the hospital based programs and/or the medical group be on the same schedule?
- If your staff and patients use public transportation to come to your office, verify if these services are available.
- There are many ways to notify patients regarding the change. One day prior to the storm, begin to move patients coinciding with the arrival of the storm. Once the storm has passed, you will need to work with your team to “add in” extra visits to ensure your day is not a financial loss. Consider if you will need a print out of the schedule in the event the power is lost and you cannot dial into the computer system.
- Optimize technology. Utilize your website, outgoing hold messages, call appointment system to cancel appointments and your patient portal to send your message out the patients. Consider having an emergency message line to inform staff of the plan for the day.
- Notify the answering service of your plans, how calls will be received and who is on call for the duration of the storm. Also alert them to any changes in hours.
- Consider your supply chain. Will vital supplies be delivered and if in fact you can wait an additional day to receive them? Check the supply of medications and vaccines in the practice. Be sure you have back up power to store these items at the right temperature. If you have multiple locations without back up power, make arrangements for practice managers to drop off these supplies or have your courier pick up the vaccines and medications and bring them to a central location with backup power.
- Be clear and consistent about the rules in which staff will be paid if the office is closed. Will it be without pay, Paid Time Off or regular pay minus the hours missed?
In the end, make sure you have thought through the various scenarios and made a safe choice, a strong plan and have communicated this clearly to patients and staff!