Natural Disasters, Outbreaks & What You Can do to Protect Yourself

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By TNAA Healthcare

January 29, 2020

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Disasters, Outbreaks & What You Can do to Protect Yourself

This article provided by: TNAA

Wildfires, hurricanes, or deadly storms. Natural disasters happen all the time, and when big ones hit, the need for medical help is paramount. From the front lines working crisis care to the aftermath of infections and displaced over populations, travel nurses play an active role. However, disaster nursing and its impacts can affect a nurse both during and after the assignment. Nurses, due to their compassionate nature, typically feel compelled to respond to those in need, even if it puts their well-being at risk. While a good travel nurse agency will have policies in place to protect you and ensure you feel supported, there are a few things you can do to minimize the fallout of a natural disaster or outbreak.

Legal, Ethical & Safety Implications for Nurses

For nurses, there is often difficulty in finding a balance between caring for patients and caring for themselves. This struggle becomes apparent during times of crisis when nurses often provide care for critically ill or wounded patients for long periods of time. It’s during these situations nurses must decide how much care they can provide to others without sacrificing their own care. So whether it’s a mass casualty, catastrophic weather event, or when their work puts them at risk for exposure (flu or other infectious disease outbreak), there are safety, legal, and ethical concerns.

Planning & Preparedness

Nursing during a disaster or outbreak means all actions, or lack of action, risk unintended consequences. So it’s essential to think about your role now. When it comes to maintaining professional integrity, determine what lines you will and will not cross.

Safety Elements

Tornados, hurricanes, or winter storms can destroy buildings, flood roads, and bring down power lines. While hospitals will work to remain open to both serve the injured and continue to meet the needs of the community, nurses will be instructed to report or stay.

  • Can you get to the hospital safely?
  • How severe is the risk of disease or exposure to the elements for you?

Legal Elements

For travel nurses, two words carry heavy weight: state laws. As you’re well aware, laws vary from state to state. It’s crucial to think about the legal implications during these events. Healthcare can be prime for lawsuits, and while we don’t want to scare you, it’s important to take seriously.

  • Are you required to report or respond to the crisis? Even if you have safety or ethical concerns?
  • Is your license protected? Similar to floating, think about your normal specialty area and what you’re qualified to do to. What assurances protect you from becoming an easy target for lawsuits.

Tips When the Worst Happens

While we want to encourage you to plan ahead, the reality is, disaster can strike at any time. Whether a crisis event has you floated to provide emergency help to a unit or stuck at the hospital overnight, the time for planning has passed. Here’s what you can do to continue to protect yourself:

  • Know and follow your facility’s disaster plan. Look for charge nurses, managers, or perm staff to find out the hospital’s policies ASAP. Knowing their disaster plan and communicating with supervisors and fellow staff is crucial.
  • Communicate what you know. Make sure your agency is informed. They can give you important info, whether it’s helping you find emergency housing or let you know how to document time if you’re required to sleep at your facility.

Look for an Agency That Takes Emergency Preparedness Seriously

Natural Disasters and outbreaks bring numerous legal and ethical issues for health care providers to the forefront. While we don’t want to scare you, it’s important to take emergency preparedness seriously. And a good travel nursing agency should take it seriously. Ask your agency if they have a disaster plan in place. Your agency should have staff dedicated to watching for catastrophic weather events, natural disasters, and potential infectious outbreaks. Your agency should talk to their nurses in potential impact zones about what to do, from how to prepare to how to document pay.

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