Natural disasters, storms, electrical outages and other calamities are an unfortunate part of life and their wrath can shut down major operations and cause havoc.

With over 184,000 patients in a 40-county service area, VA North Texas Health Care Systems’ continuum of care during any disaster or incident is a priority for its Office of Emergency Management (OEM).

Utilizing a cadre of 150 volunteers, OEM establishes critical support services to ensure an interruption-free delivery of health care to patients and employees.

At its core, OEM’s primary focus is providing reliable information to Veterans and the public about emergency preparedness activities within the VA health care system.

“Unfortunately, it can take a disaster for many people to realize how unprepared we really are,” said Mike Hoffman, VA North Texas OEM coordinator. “In order to survive an emergency, we must have the necessary tools and that’s often more than just a few extra bottles of water.”

For individuals, emergency preparedness could include establishing a supply of nonperishable foods, batteries, medication, and safeguarding of key documents like passports and birth certificates.

VA preparedness includes possible Fourth Mission response

For large active medical facilities, preparedness is a 24/7/365 operation that includes sustainable actions and possible activation of VA’s Fourth Mission.

VA’s Fourth Mission augments the nation’s preparedness for response to war, terrorism, national emergencies and natural disasters, in conjunction with local, state and federal emergency management efforts.

Recent VA North Texas Fourth Mission activities included the availability of a Covid-19 overflow treatment facility to augment an overstretched Dallas and Fort Worth metropolitan areas home to 7.7 million people.

“Our OEM team takes a proactive approach in ensuring that VA North Texas is one of the most prepared and responsive integrated health care systems in the nation,” said Dr. Steven Holt, VA North Texas executive director. “Our daily commitment to our patients and the local community during this Covid-19 pandemic has reinvigorated awareness towards what it takes to keep patients, employees and the community safe during crisis periods.”

“Preparedness doesn’t happen overnight.”

As part of daily operations, OEM coordinates the specifics of emergency management preparedness, including logistics, training, exercises and assessments.

OEM also manages emergency plans, processes, procedures, and develops policies and directives in an effort to sustain VA’s emergency and disaster preparedness, optimizing continuity of care.

“Preparedness doesn’t happen overnight or by PowerPoint, so VA North Texas’ OEM team spends a considerable amount of daily efforts educating patients and employees,” said Dennis Pollard, VA North Texas emergency management specialist. “This is while we are exercising our capabilities so the best actions become automatic and seamless.”

Calm is contagious – the right state of mind will keep you safe

Augmenting OEM efforts, VA North Texas’ primary care teams, social workers, home based nurses and other healthcare workers support crisis management educational efforts by sharing preparedness information during in-person, virtual and home-patient visits.

Those individuals and families with children and pets should add additional layers of preparation to their emergency preparedness.

“Being able to keep children calm and occupied during events and looking out for the needs of any pets in the home is essential,” Hoffman said. “Having the right skills and the right state of mind to manage a disaster will keep you and yours safe. Calm is contagious. Doing regular personal or organizational drills reminds everyone to keep calm, and be deliberate in their action. Being prepared for the worst can keep you alive, safe, and secure.”

By Yolonde Rocio is a public affairs specialist with the VA North Texas Health Care System

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Published on Oct. 8, 2021

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