When Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston in August, pounding the city with powerful wind gusts and several inches of rain, Community Health Choice (CHC) was ready. “I’ve lived through three hurricanes,” says native Houstonian Delwin Beene, director of accreditation at CHC. “This wasn’t our first time at the rodeo.”
CHC is a non-profit, Managed Care Organization (MCO), offering Children's Medicaid (STAR) and CHIP programs. With a network of 10,000 doctors and 77 hospitals, it’s work can literally be a matter of life and death for patients. For example, the hurricane forced the quick evacuation of some patients without an adequate supply of medication. CHC had to be in position to help them get refills.
The speed and magnitude of the hurricane caught many by surprise. By Saturday, August 26, parts of the city were under water. Roads were impassible. Power was out in wide swaths in and around Houston. Luckily, UHC’s disaster preparedness plan was nimble enough to adjust as needed.
“We closed our offices on Monday and Tuesday and implemented our disaster recovery plan and transferred all calls to our call center vendor in San Antonio,” Beene says. “Even through the storm, we had staff interfacing with the San Antonio call center so that we were able to respond to member needs.”
Communication was a key, he says. At the height of Hurricane Harvey, Beene and a team representing critical players, including the workforce and operations departments, held hourly calls to share the latest information and adjust recovery tactics as needed.
Successful disaster preparedness starts with leadership, Beene says. Those in positions of authority must be able to understand the potential for disruption to even the most basic of operations. A well-crafted disaster preparedness plan helps each employee understand the situation as it unfolds and provides a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities.
While Beene knew CHCs existing plan was strong, he also recognized that working to achieve compliance with URAC’s disaster preparedness standards would only make it stronger – and have a positive impact on state regulators. There’s a definite comfort factor for regulators when they see an operation has URAC accreditation. “We do get some credit for it,” he adds.
“We look to see that the business continuity plan is current, that people know what their roles are, and obstacles are removed,” says Donna Merrick, product enhancement principal at URAC. Working with URAC provides important third-party review to ensure a plan is periodically tested and updated to make implementation effective when it counts.
Organizations can also leverage the URAC accreditation standards to demonstrate the need for a strong disaster preparedness plan, Merrick says. “It can help those tasked with disaster preparedness better make a compelling case for funding and other resources,” she adds.
With foresight and dedication, CHC maintained critical operations even at the height of a historic hurricane. It wasn’t easy. However, with lives in the balance, failure wasn’t an option.