The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active in recorded history. The most devastating hurricane of the season, Katrina, brought on a 30-foot storm surge and severe flooding in and around New Orleans. When Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, it affected the operation of 94 dialysis facilities (nine in Alabama, 31 in Mississippi, and 54 in Louisiana).
More than 5,800 dialysis patients were in the affected area. Many of these facilities were closed for a week or more. A lack of backup hospital care and adequate isolation stations made it difficult for many dialysis patients to get the treatment they needed. Poor emergency planning led to evacuation struggles for both patients and staff. Katrina also had an impact on accessibility to renal care needed for transplantation recipients, access to anti-rejection medications, and physician follow-up.
The effective response and collaboration by the entire ESRD community and its external stakeholders was remarkable, according to Joan Thomas, MPA, CEM, ABCP, MEP, Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) Program Director for the ESRD National Coordinating Center. “As a result, the ESRD community was able to identify lessons learned, which led to the development of best practices for emergency preparedness,” she said.
“Because of Katrina, the KCER coalition was created with a very clear aim—to coordinate with patient and provider organizations, CMS and ESRD Networks to ensure that life-saving dialysis services are available and obtainable in the event of an emergency or disaster,” said Lisa Hall, MSSW, LICSW, Patient Services Director at Northwest Renal Network (ESRD Network 16), who was the KCER coordinator at Network 7 (Florida) at the time.
Hurricane Katrina highlighted the need for the ESRD community to come together to develop national and local emergency preparedness best practices. Outcomes included:
• Daily community-wide conference calls post-disaster
• Mechanisms to track displaced patients
• Facility reporting tools on operational status during disasters
• Staff sharing and identification of alternate work sites
• Online database of emergency/disaster volunteers
• Establishment of a resource to update facility openings/closures and to track facility status
• Creation of an email listserv, emergency help-line, and emergency preparedness website
• National KCER hotline
• Collaboration to assist with physician placement and assistance
• Facilitation of the provision of nephrology expertise for management of dialysis and transplant patients during and large-scale crisis
• Identification of tools needed to aid physicians whose practices were disrupted by a disaster
Today, KCER is the leading authority on emergency preparedness and response within the ESRD community. For more information, visit the KCER website.
Ask the Experts is a continuing series of profiles and interviews, focusing on topics of interest to professionals in the kidney community.