Doctors, support staff and patients all were kept updated about the hospital's status via e-mail, text and voice messages.
A New Jersey hospital utilized a mass-notification alert program to keep doctors, staff and citizens updated about the status of the healthcare facility during Superstorm Sandy, according to an official for the hospital.
Maureen Di Tore, director of telecommunications for The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., said during a webinar last week that the hospital used a solution from Everbridge extensively around the time that Sandy hit the eastern seaboard last fall.
"It was our primary communication before, during and after Sandy," Di Tore said.
With the Everbridge solution, the hospital was able to send updates via several methods — e-mail, text and voice to wireless and wireline phones — to notify staff members about the status of the hospital, including specifics for different parts of the campus, Di Tore said. Being able to leverage so many different communications methods is especially helpful in a significant storm situation, because it is impossible to know which will be able to be received, she said.
The Valley Hospital was not hit by the storm as hard as other areas, Di Tore said. Commercial power was intermittent during the first 72 hours after the storm, but backup power allowed the hospital to remain in operation at all times. That was not the case for some of the other buildings on the campus that house non-emergency functions — those facilities were closed for more than a week — and communicating decisions regarding affected employees was important.
"So, we had a lot of things that we needed to consider — how were these people going to be able to be contacted, so they didn't leave their home to come to work," Di Tore said. "It's one thing if the storm hits during the day, but do we call people at 3:00 in the morning to let them know not to come into work? Do we have another place we can reassign them, so they can continue to do their work and we don't have to worry about trying to catch up a week later?"
Within the main hospital, Di Tore said representatives from the different departments met every two hours to provide status updates. This information was distributed to employees and citizens who "opted in" to the hospital's alerting service via the Everbridge notification system. In addition, the hospital website also was updated with status changes.
"The Everbridge alert went out every two hours to staff," Di Tore said. "A lot of people may have been annoyed by it, but we just felt it was necessary to keep everyone updated. If changes were noted, we would send it out. If nothing had changed, we didn't see a need to send out a notification.
"We learned later on that, for a lot of people who lost power or weren't able to access the alerts, they said that they weren't quite sure when the message had come in. After we heard that, we started to say, 'Every time we send out an Everbridge alert in the future, everything has to be dated and timed,' so everyone knows the sequence of events that occurred."
Of course, one key challenge for the hospital was to maintain staffing levels at a time when many employees could not access normal public transportation and gasoline for cars was difficult to secure, because many gas stations could not operate while commercial power was down.
"It was a struggle for clinical and non-clinical staff to get to the hospital," Di Tore said. "People may get here, but they're not able to get home, because they don't have enough gas to fill up the tank. There were other people that were stuck at home and weren't able to come in."
"That's where Everbridge came into play, because we had to start calling in people who could possibly come in to cover for those who basically were unable to get here, because they didn't have the fuel to get themselves here."
With more than 1,500 entities using its notification solution, Everbridge said that more than 10 million alerts were sent during Superstorm Sandy — a 156% increase compared with the number of alerts associated with Hurricane Irene the previous year, according to Claudia Dent, Everbridge's vice president of product marketing.
While the Everbridge solution was critical to The Valley Hospital during Superstorm Sandy, hospital officials also believe the notification solution can provide significant benefits on a day-to-day basis, Di Tore said. In a new project that should be online in a couple of months, the hospital will use the Everbridge system to confirm scheduled patient appointments in a streamlined manner that should have a positive impact on the bottom line.
"Using diagnostic imaging just for one year and [looking at] the no-shows that never rescheduled, we realized that we probably lost $200,000 in revenue," Di Tore said. "And, if we're able to get these no-shows or people who are going to come late for an appointment to get back online, it will actually counter all of the lost revenue and lost productivity that you can experience from a no-show or someone coming late."