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When the Hospital Becomes the Patient

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

After a major disaster, the injured will flock to a hospital for trauma care. Others will need a hospital too: women delivering babies, children with alarming fevers, people requiring medication, and the chronically ill. But what if the hospital itself falls victim in the event?

GHI works with hospitals to prepare for earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, and landslides—by reducing vulnerabilities ahead of time. Every community needs a healthy hospital at the ready. Many face combined stresses from hazards and poverty. Strengthening these hospitals now will not only save lives and reduce suffering in disasters, but will also help communities retain hard-won development gains.

Trashiyangtse Hospital, Bhutan. One of many hospitals where GHI assessed likely damages from natural hazards and prioritized steps to prepare. Photo: Karma Doma Tshering

GHI recently evaluated key hospitals in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Solomon Islands. These countries range from mountainous to coastal, but all face a high risk of casualties from natural hazards and have highly vulnerable hospitals. We evaluated the only hospitals serving their cities in Bhutan and Solomon Islands, and four high priority hospitals in Kathmandu.

Even if the structure remains sound, disruptions can disable a hospital. It might lose crucial power, water, medical gas and communication. Intense shaking from earthquakes might dislodge heavy objects, destroy medical equipment and topple supplies. People will need safe routes for evacuation. Failure to prepare for these issues could severely impair medical care in a crisis.

Working with hospital staff, GHI prioritizes improvements. We identify important equipment that should be bolted, and where the systems delivering water and power should be braced. We train engineers to do this, and we specify adequate back-up for utilities. We advise alternate plans to connect with the oustide world when phones and roads will be down.

In a separate program that began in 2008, GHI has trained 1600 hospital administrators, staff, engineers, and construction contractors in India’s zones of highest earthquake risk to secure hospital elements against shaking. The training uses a manual that GHI developed, “Reducing Earthquake Risk in Hospitals from Equipment, Contents, Architectural Elements and Building Utility Systems.”

World Health Organization funded GHI’s assessments in Nepal, Bhutan and Solomon Islands. European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (Dipecho) added funding for Bhutan. Reinsurer Swiss Re provided funds for the India hospitals training and manual.


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