The new definition of “emergency”: when hospitals are impacted by severe weather

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The quiet town of Estes Park faced historic flooding recently, and is working to attract tourists back.
Source: BigStockPhotos

Like a scene from a blockbuster horror movie or sci-fi thriller, the quiet town of Estes Park, Colorado, is facing the daunting reality of being cut off from the rest of the world with limited roadways available to and from the rural hamlet. Following the recent historic flooding in the state, a majority of the roads leading in and out of Estes Park were washed away, except for one, leaving this picturesque, tourist-filled town at the foot of Rocky Mountain National Park eerily more quiet than usual.

In the wake of this new reality, the Estes Park Medical Center, a small 25-bed hospital, is now dealing with the possibility of not being able to transfer critical patients to larger hospitals, or receive vital supplies to keep its facility operational. According to a recent NPR report, a normal commute to the closest critical care or trauma hospital was originally 60 minutes by ambulance. Now, it can take up to three or four hours depending on weather conditions and traffic. On top of that, many of the hospital’s personnel commute to work, which restricts the number of employees who are available to fill shifts or even have access to the hospital at all. With winter quickly approaching and the road restoration project not scheduled to be complete until December, the hospital is facing its worst nightmare: uncertainty in patient care, lack of supplies and hospital staff, longer waiting times and more extreme life or death situations.

Unfortunately, in small, rural communities like Estes Park, many hospital networks face this same dilemma. The situation is worsened by severe weather, such as flooding, blizzards, hurricanes and tornadoes. Even though hospitals are fully-stocked with generators and adequate emergency response plans, weather is wildly unpredictable and can put additional stress on an already chaotic environment.

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Tourists from across the country visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall to see the colorful foliage.
Source: BigStockPhoto

This worst-case-scenario faced presently by Estes Park Medical Center demonstrates just how vital accurate and timely weather forecasting is to the healthcare industry. If a medical director is alerted of a weather threat coming towards their facility, town or supply chain region, extra steps and precautions can be made to safeguard both patients and staff. Staffing schedules can be adjusted, emergency routes can be mapped, extra supplies can be ordered and patient care can be addressed without delay. These minor steps, when taken by a small or large hospital prior to a storm’s arrival, can drastically change the hospital’s outcome and recovery period following the storm.

Estes Park may take some time to fully recover, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. According to Denver ABC-affiliate 7 News, many local business owners are working hard to re-open their doors this fall, which is one of the busiest times of the year for the tourist town. The influx of visitors could potentially put more pressure on the state and local governments to speed up the process of restoring viable roads. If not, additional travelers could mean additional problems for the hospital. Only time will tell how quickly Estes Park will wake up from its nightmare.

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