The Benefits of GW’s Health Administration Training in Action

A week before Hurricane Irma struck Miami, the Florida Keys, and other parts of southern Florida, a team of hospital administrators at Baptist Health South Florida had already started executing and tweaking the emergency preparedness plans which ultimately ensured that all of its patients, employees and facilities weathered the storm.  Members of the Emergency Preparedness team including Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President D. Wayne Brackin, an alumnus of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health’s (Milken Institute SPH) MHA program, as well as a current MHA student and recent alumna, credit their MHA training for contributing to the best possible outcome.

For Rabie Javaid, a third-year MHA student doing her residency at Baptist Health South Florida, the experience of working there during a major hurricane underscored the value of the Disaster Management for Healthcare Organizations class (HSML 6245) that she took with Professorial Lecturer Pietro Marghella.  “We talked a lot about Hurricane Katrina in that class and all of the issues that came from being unprepared.  When I learned about Hurricane Irma, I was constantly thinking about that class and all of the things we learned.  It made me feel better prepared and gave me talking points when I was sitting in a room with Baptist Health executives discussing how to prepare for a direct hit by what was forecast to be the mother of all hurricanes.” 

The hospital system’s preparations for the imminent storm included plans for sheltering patients, employees and their families during the hurricane; testing emergency generators and ensuring weather protections such as shutters were ready to go for 40+ facilities; and ensuring protections and back-ups for the information technology resources needed to manage in-patient resources, and maintain medical records and the hospital supply chain before, during and after the hurricane. “We organize rigorous drills and trainings that are held year-round,” Brackin says.  He was at Homestead Hospital 25 years ago during Hurricane Andrew, where the experiences encountered there at ground zero helped shape the healthcare organization’s emergency preparedness strategy that’s in place today. “Our emergency plan goes beyond storms to include the outbreak of diseases and man-made disasters. It’s always best to be prepared to ride out the storm,” he says.

Javaid credits Brackin’s leadership for ensuring that everything went as smoothly as it did before, during, and after the storm.  “He was very calm and collected, and that calmed everyone else down,” she recalls.

“As they progress through our competency-based curriculum, all of our MHA students learn skills that prepare them for dealing with the unexpected,” says Doug Anderson, interim director of the Milken Institute SPH Department of Health Policy and Management’s MHA residential program.  “Our students are trained to become the kinds of leaders who can effectively steer healthcare organizations in times of natural disasters and unexpected events such as the tragedy in Las Vegas.  It’s one of the reasons why GW MHA alumni are valued throughout the country and world.”

Both Javaid and Mengzhi Hu, a GW MHA alumna who had completed a residency at Baptist Health South Florida and graduated in May 2017, facilitated the operation of the Incident Command Center that the hospital system set up as part of the process of planning for the storm and operated 24/7 for three weeks.  Like Javaid, Hu had also taken Disaster Management for Healthcare Organizations class and credits it for helping her feel well-prepared for Hurricane Irma, as well as Hurricane Matthew, which threatened South Florida in October 2016, during her residency. The two helped plan for employees to shelter in place before the hurricane, and they stayed onsite at Baptist Health’s corporate offices in Coral Gables for three full days, bringing sleeping bags, food, and changes of clothes, so they could remain there during the storm and its aftermath. 

When the hurricane arrived, Javaid and Hu viewed it from the building’s 6th floor boardroom offices.  “It was an experience,” says Javaid, who is originally from West Palm Beach and began her residency in June ’17. 

Florida’s largest private employer

Baptist Health is Florida’s largest private employer.  The hospital system includes ten hospitals and over 40 outpatient facilities through four counties in southern Florida, territory that includes Miami, the Florida Keys—where the hospital system operates two hospitals—and Palm Beach County. 

Days before the hurricane struck, Florida ordered that the keys be evacuated in recognition of the risk posed by surges and high winds to the low-lying sandbar islands.  The Incident Command Center managed the evacuation of the two hospitals, Mariner’s Hospital and Fishermen’s Community Hospital, arranging for employees and all patients who couldn’t be discharged and to be moved to other sister facilities.  Fishermen’s had just been acquired two months prior to the storm, and it sustained major damage and remains closed.  Baptist Health collaborated with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to use 13 trailers with mobile medical equipment to establish a 24-hour emergency department as well as a six-bed medical and surgical unit, a diagnostic center and a laboratory to fill in for the hospital as it is rebuilt.

Although the storm’s last-minute change of trajectory spared the Miami area from some of the worst impacts that Baptist Health South Florida had geared up to weather, it was still a major storm.  Arguably the best testament to the hospital system’s preparations were the actions by the physicians and employees who made it through downed trees and power lines to help those in need.  During the storm, 18 babies were born at Baptist Health hospitals, doctors and clinical teams performed life-saving procedures, chefs cooked thousands of meals, and hundreds of employees and their families received temporary shelter.

Marghella applauds Baptist Health South Florida’s leadership for its advance planning and pre-emptive action, observing that this kind of emergency planning is still much more rare among health administrators than he would like.  In September, he was appointed to be the special advisor to the Secretary of Health of Puerto Rico to advise the territory on matters related to disaster medicine and the public health response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  While he stresses that the situation in Puerto Rico is complicated, he says the lack of advance planning contributed to how thoroughly the storm devastated the territory’s health care infrastructure. 

Javaid and Hu are currently still working on Baptist Health South Florida’s Post-Irma Employee Recovery task force.  They are helping to provide temporary housing to all of the employees of Mariner’s Hospital and Fishermen’s Community Hospital who were displaced by the storm. 

“My residency at Baptist Health has been amazing, and I am so grateful that I was able to get so much hands-on experience as a hospital administrator during a major storm to see how everything came together during a time of crisis.  Baptist is just an all-around great organization,” Javaid says.