Accreditation & Regulatory Journal
January 2023

CIHQ-ARS Article

Q&A: Quick tips for winter weather preparation

By: Brian Ward
All signs point to a turbulent 2022–2023 winter season, according to an AccuWeather projection. While winter comes every year, the impact of climate change, volcanic eruptions, and other factors mean facilities can’t be complacent.
PSMJ spoke with William Kinch, MHA, HACP-PE, the senior facility specialist for the Center for Improvement in Healthcare Quality (CIHQ/ARS), to get some advice and best practices for keeping your hospital running efficiently as the mercury drops.
Q: What are best practices for preparing for prolonged winter weather, be it snow, ice, or major drops in temperature?
  • Performing preventative maintenance and testing on generators to ensure they will work if needed
  • Having sufficient fuel on hand for emergency generators
  • Hospital vehicles need to be winterized and have fuel available
  • Ensure that enough supplies and food are available for staff and patients
  • Conduct a disaster exercise prior to the start of the winter weather season
  • Educate staff on how to be prepared
  • Prepare and protect water pipes
Q: During a heavy snow or ice storm, facilities can lose phone access and internet connectivity if the power goes out. While individual facilities have backup generators, the vendors and municipal departments they rely on might not. What can facilities do ahead of time to keep communications open with outside agencies?
Kinch: As part of the hospital’s disaster preparedness plan, ensure that the communication plan is updated with backup communication systems as needed. Determine what communication systems other key organizations have so that you can keep up with constant and uninterrupted communication. Conduct tests of these communication systems to make sure they work and that staff understand how to use them.
Q: What are the requirements or best practices for snow removal from hospital parking lots and outdoor walkways? Is the amount based on your hazard vulnerability assessment, or is there a set amount of snow buildup that accrediting organizations allow? And during a long snowfall, how frequently must the area be cleared?
Kinch: The environment must be developed and maintained in such a manner that the safety and well-being of the patients, staff, and visitors are assured. Healthcare organizations are expected to address any potential safety hazards that are specific to weather on both interior and exterior locations in accordance with nationally recognized standards (i.e., CDC, OSHA, FEMA, etc.).
Q: The country is still suffering from supply chain and inflation issues that can make getting supplies like ice melt and food difficult. Do you have any advice on how to keep facilities fully provisioned?
Kinch: It is important for organizations to plan accordingly for the types of emergencies that could affect their building. We see that healthcare facilities are ordering supplies much earlier than they typically would to address these supply chain issues and the increase in price of products. It can be sometimes difficult for organizations to spend money on preparedness for something that might not occur. However, during times like this with supply chain issues, it is more important to plan since it will be too late when the emergency occurs.
Q: Let’s say there’s a situation, like a fire, that forces an evacuation of your facility during a blizzard or deep cold. What are some of the things that your emergency plan will need to consider? Vehicles, alternative sites, keeping people warm, delays or impassable road conditions?
Kinch: Every organization disaster plan needs to include an evacuation policy. While the best thing to do is a shelter-in-place, there may be instances in which the building can no longer safely support patients and staff. The evacuation plan will need to address how the organization will transport patients, alternate care sites, and supplies that will be needed. Early preparation would be needed to know what type of vehicles are available in their community to assist during an evacuation. This will all need to be addressed in the disaster plan.
Q: Do you have advice on how staff can address patient fall risks inside the building during winter weather? Is it just increasing how often janitorial staff clean up ice and slush tracked inside?
Kinch: As mentioned earlier, organizations must maintain a safe environment inside and outside of the organization. Here are some recommended ways to help keep a safe walking surface inside the building:
  • Add more mats for people to dry their shoes off
  • Provide blowers to keep the floor dry
  • Do more frequent rounding in the areas
  • Provide disposable, non-slip, water-resistant shoe covers at each entrance
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about extreme winter weather preparedness?
Kinch: Staff should receive information about the following:
  • Developing an emergency kit
  • How to safely remove snow
  • How to prevent frostbite
  • Worksite hazards from extreme winter weather
This article originally ran on HcPro’s Accreditation & Quality Compliance Center and has been provided to CIHQ. To learn more about the resources they offer visit.