Near the end of August 2017, a tropical storm was brewing in the Atlantic Ocean. That storm, known as Hurricane Irma, was on a course headed toward Florida after making its way into the Gulf of Mexico.
As is with any typical hurricane news coverage, you never really know until the actual day it hits. But, we knew she was headed toward us at Operation PAR and we had to determine how to best serve our clients during this weather emergency.
Our organization runs seven methadone clinics stretching from Hernando County, south, to Lee County, serving 4,200 individuals. Clients who miss their regular dosage risk experiencing withdraw symptoms or relapse, which we certainly wanted to avoid during the storm. Some clients chose to leave the state for the duration of the storm, while others decided to stay. With the storm approaching, we needed to ensure that all individuals had their methadone medication on-hand to be safe.
We had several days’ advance notice, so we used that time to determine our plan of attack. Our management team met regularly prior to Irma’s arrival, making sure that our plan was organized to keep things running as smooth as possible given what we knew about the storm. We decided to provide take-home doses to cover four days, should the storm prevent regular access to our clinic.
We took an all hands on deck approach when it came to getting our teams aligned to execute our plan. It was important that our electronic health record (EHR) was up and running smoothly during this time as we were planning to dispense more than usual. So we reached out to our partners at Netsmart to ensure they did not have any planned downtime for updates, reboots, etc. We connected with their system engineering team and also worked with them to take appropriate measures to avoid overloading servers or crashing the network. We also made sure that our internal staff was up-to-date on our plans and made sure that everyone was available for plenty of support.
There was a feeling of anxiousness among our clients because of their concern about whether or not they would have access to the medicine they needed. On Friday, Sept. 8, we opened at 4:30 a.m. – an hour earlier than normal – and began dispensing. On a typical Friday, we dispense 5,325 doses of methadone. By 11:30 a.m. that morning we dispensed 16,498 doses – more than three times the average amount.
Being prepared for a hurricane is not new to us, but every time we try to be even more prepared than the last time. It helps that have standard practices in place to help alleviate some of the stress with events like this. For example, we made sure our generator was running smoothly in case of a power outage and ensured we had plenty of fuel to get us through an extended period of time.
The storm hit our area Sunday night into Monday morning. We lost power, but our generators kicked-in and we were able to continue to support our regular clients. Our EHR ran without a hitch. We were also able to provide client record support for other nearby clinics who lost power and were manually dosing.
Maintaining communication was key to our success. From reaching out to Netsmart to informing our staff about our operations plan, to keeping the public informed about our plans on our website and social media, keeping everyone informed was essential. Communication allowed us to simply get organized and ask for assistance when we needed it. When we connected with our Netsmart engineering and support teams, they were willing to make sure we had what we need including before and after-hours support. We greatly appreciate that they were willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Luckily, we didn’t need them to jump into action, but it was comforting to know they were ready to assist.
It’s important that organizational leadership takes a good look at what their emergency plans are and invest wisely in factors that support those plans. Of course, not all emergencies are foreseeable, but in the event an organization has a chance to take advantage of advance notice, seize the opportunity to utilize what you have at hand and consider all resources already existing within your organization, including your partners.
Irma came and went and it was impressive to see what we were able to accomplish. Communication and transparency worked in our favor. We had no disruptions with our software or connectivity. Everything was up and running as it should have been and we had peace of mind that if something were to go wrong, our team, along with Netsmart, was prepared to jump in to help. Our staff was great with working with clients pre- and post-Irma, making sure everyone got what they needed to avoid any bigger issues. Thanks to our preparedness and willingness of our resources to help, we were truly able to weather the storm.