Water Safety and Disaster Management Procedures Reported by Louisiana Health Care Food Service Directors

By Gerald, Bonnie L. | Journal of Environmental Health, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Water Safety and Disaster Management Procedures Reported by Louisiana Health Care Food Service Directors


Gerald, Bonnie L., Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

A disaster may be any natural or manmade event in which assistance is needed for a return to normal functioning (Puckett & Norton, 2002). For health care facilities, advance planning is essential to decreasing the severity of any damage or service interruptions. Each type of potential disaster must be evaluated for severity, duration, predictability, frequency, and magnitude (Counts, 2001b). All health care facilities must have an emergency/disaster recovery plan in order to maintain accreditation/certification (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). Disaster recovery plans should include instructions on how to function with disruptions in communication, utilities, deliveries, and the availability of labor. Health care professionals, including food service directors, should participate in emergency/disaster planning that specifically addresses the types of hazards their facilities are likely to face (Olshansky, 2002).

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Natural disasters occur in every state. Louisiana, however, ranks near the top in several categories for the period 1900-1999:

* second in combined tornado, flood, and hurricane damage (an average annual cost of $966.9 million);

* third in flood damage (an average annual cost of $320.5 million); and

* fourth in hurricane damage (an average annual cost of $338.5 million) (University of Colorado at Boulder, 2001).

Availability of potable water is critical to all phases of food service operation. Approximately 1.5 gallons of water are used per patient meal in health care facilities (Scriven & Stevens, 1999). Community water systems provide most of the potable water used in the United States, including the water used in health care facilities. The elderly, young mothers, and infants, who may constitute a significant percentage of acute and long-term health care patients, are vulnerable to complications resulting from contaminated water. Patients whose lives are dependent on technology, such as those on dialysis, may be unable to receive treatment if potable water is unavailable (Counts, 2001b). All community water systems must release an annual water quality report to stakeholders describing the source of water and its microbiological and chemical content and quality (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 2001).

Health care professionals must consider loss of power as a complicating factor in the delivery of potable water. Alternative power sources in multiple locations may be necessary to keep distribution networks functioning within a facility. Consideration must also be given to operation of the water treatment systems, including drains, sewage, and solid-waste outlets (Brown, 2000; Counts, 2001a). Water safety factors that a disaster plan should address include:

* water quantity requirements for operation of the facility.

* determination of water quality after a disaster,

* disinfection of the water distribution system after a disaster,

* implementation of an advisory to boil water,

* length of downtime before recovery phase, and

* sanitization of ice-making and ice-handling machines (Counts, 2001a).

Inclusion of these factors in a disaster plan facilitates continuity of food production. For example, identifying alternative methods of accessing water, like using a dairy tank truck to deliver water or connecting a fire hose to a nearby fire hydrant, would minimize interruption of the water supply (Counts, 2001a). Updated records on the facility itself, including information on potentially hazardous materials and unsafe areas, should be maintained within the facility and at local public safety agencies (Meyer, 2002; Muhlebach, 2002).

Health care facilities in Louisiana should have disaster plans that address the likelihood that water disruptions will occur. The purpose of the research reported here was to characterize water safety procedures included in health care disaster planning and to determine if water management policies for food production and service were implemented during a disaster. …

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