Five Ways to Champion Continuity in Healthcare Organizations

Oct 3, 2022
Unless those who deliver healthcare invest in continuity planning, they risk never being able to recover from events like natural disasters, human-caused events, and malicious technological breaches. Continuity planning places the organization in the best position to avert these and other threats. 

Nationwide, the healthcare system includes:

  • Hospitals
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Home health services
  • Physician offices
  • Diagnostic centers
  • Specialty care treatment centers
  • Mental and behavioral health
  • A variety of other components

In 2021, in collaboration with Infogroup, a leading provider of data and data-driven marketing solutions, the U.S. Department of Labor found that healthcare providers represented three of the top five largest employers in major metropolitan cities. To avert disaster, public and nonprofit entities and others all require the same level of continuity planning as their for-profit partners. 

Two distinct goals surface when examining the healthcare delivery system and the role of continuity. First, individual businesses or agencies should have plans in place to recover business or mission functions after a disaster occurs. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), "40 percent of small businesses never reopen after a disaster and another 25 percent that do reopen fail within a year." FEMA has found that "following a disaster, 90% of smaller companies fail within a year unless they can resume operations within five days." Continuity is not only important to a business's bottom line, but it has a broader socioeconomic impact regarding employment and services. 

Second, the healthcare system must be maintained following a disaster. Rapid recovery of operations after an event is critical to the community, which may require medical services. 

At first glance, continuity planning and emergency preparedness can be daunting, especially for professionals who are unexpectedly saddled with those responsibilities. Dedicated emergency managers typically exist only within hospital systems in most national and state healthcare delivery systems. In most small- to medium-sized workplaces, staff with other primary day-to-day missions will complete the organization's continuity and emergency planning. 

Although these terms and processes overlap, they are quite different. The primary goal of emergency preparedness is to safeguard people and property from harm. Preparedness is a fluid and dynamic process that requires continual updates with adjustments. Continuity's main goal focuses on the continuation of critical business or mission operations.  

Recognizing the difference permits the identification of different key tasks relating to the planning processes. Many healthcare facilities manage the two processes as one – a logical combination since both are working towards the same objective. And many healthcare facilities have one person managing both. However, this may not be the right decision for many organizations. The organization's emergency preparedness planning component cannot fully address continuity. 

Many state and government agencies maintain continuity of operations plan, known as COOP. BC and COOP are specific plans, procedures, and resources that allow a healthcare organization to recover its essential services and functions during an event that disrupts normal operations. Organizations that meet the CMS emergency preparedness guidelines may not have a robust BC plan. To champion continuity with an organization, follow the five best foundational practices: 

1. Gain Organization Leadership Buy-In 

Many BC and COOP mitigation measures, such as creating a staff contact roster, can be performed at little to no cost. Remember that the goal of BC is self-preservation. Can your organizational leadership afford to do nothing? 

2. Establish a BC or COOP Planning Team 

Establish a strong internal planning team with staff that have preparedness mindsets. Regardless of size, the team should represent all critical elements: clinical operations, non-clinical operations, and human resources or IT specialties. 

3. Identify One Leader With Authority to Serve as Project Manager 

One executive or leader with authority should function as the overall project manager. That person ensures that collaboration occurs, deadlines are met, and the project maintains forward progress, in addition to resolving conflicts. 

4. Perform a BC Risk Assessment or COOP Threat & Hazard Identification & Risk Assessment (THIRA) 

The first step to performing a BC risk assessment or COOP THIRA is understanding what risks exist. This process is more straightforward than you think. Most emergency management and public health agencies are required by their grants to perform risk assessments for their jurisdictions. Many are available online; however, contact the state or local public health preparedness office or emergency management agency if one cannot be located for your area. The risk assessment should identify threats or hazards with opportunities for hazard prevention, deterrence, or risk mitigation. 

5. For BC: Perform a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) 

The business impact analysis (BIA) predicts the consequences of disruption of a business function or process and gathers information needed to develop a recovery strategy. Considering potential operational and financial impacts, the BIA should include other outcomes such as regulatory fines, contractual penalties, and customer dissatisfaction. Factor in the timing and duration of disruption, as these variables can alter the impact on the business. The BIA will be used to establish priories to restore business operations. 


Ready to get started? Reach out to Agility today to discuss your organization's priorities and planning.

Business Continuity for Healthcare Organizations

With over 30 years of experience in emergency management and continuity of operations planning (COOP), Agility helps healthcare organizations plan, prepare, test, and recover from any business disruption.