Hurricane Florence will have long-term health system impact

Hurricane Florence slammed into the Atlantic coast late last week, killing at least 18 people in North and South Carolina, according to reports. As the Mid-Atlantic states prepare for rain to continue through the next few days with catastrophic flooding, the long-term impact on health systems could be severe once the waters subside, according to a report from PwC.

Long after a natural disaster, health systems have to take several steps to recover and help their communities. In each of the last five years, disasters have cost the U.S. between $18 billion and $200 billion, according to PwC. Costs reached $195.2 billion in 2017, the highest-costing year in the last five as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

While many costs occur once a storm has passed, health systems often face closure, chaotic revenue cycle operations, displaced workers, and destroyed or damaged physical assets during a natural disaster, according to PwC.

Financially, health systems need to prepare for natural disasters by having more cash on hand to stay financially stable during the event. Securing backup billing and collections services can also help continue revenue cycle activities, PwC recommended. In wake of serious damage, health systems also need to be prepared for a potential credit downgrade and loss of market share, which can further complicate rebuilding efforts.

To protect physical assets, health systems may need to make costly investments ahead of natural disasters, including spending on response systems and strong insurance policies. Studying past FEMA claims can help predict what potential liabilities a system may have.

Beyond physical damage, natural disasters can impact a health system’s reputation, which is why providers need communication strategies to keep correct information flowing to the public. A public relations plan is essential in the aftermath of a disaster to reach patients and employees. This can help with another area: staffing issues. Affected staffers may be unable to come to work, which is why extending the healthcare workforce and making considerations to continue operations needs to be coordinated.

“Develop enterprise resilience to help ride out a storm,” the report concludes. “Providers should assess gaps and weaknesses, their capacities to lead and inspire, work together and innovate, create and protect value, and make changes. They should determine the current level of resilience and start planning for what comes next.”