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Even localized crime can pose an emergency threat to healthcare centers

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August 10, 2017

While an all-hazards risk assessment is required for the annual review of your emergency preparedness plan under the new Conditions of Participation (CoP), be aware that new hazards can pop up at a moment’s notice—and you can use them to review your readiness.

Take, for example, a recent warning by an Ohio sheriff who told residents of his county to be ready for a rough July 4 holiday weekend because of what he said were criminal gangs looking to target the area with possible violence and extra-lethal drugs.

The warning seemed to startle other law enforcement officials in the area. When it came up in the daily safety huddle held by a local health system, managers there used it as an opportunity to review the system’s emergency planning.

Hospital heeds warning

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader issued the alert on Facebook the Monday before the long holiday weekend. Members of the criminal gangs MS-13 or Konvicted Family could make their way into the region, about an hour’s drive south of Columbus, with plans to wreak havoc, the sheriff said.

“Possibly planning on ‘taking out’ believed snitches and spread ‘HOTSHOTS’ of heavily laced Heroin into the area that could cause an extremely large amount of overdoses in Pike County and surrounding counties,” Reader wrote in an alert reported by The Columbus Dispatch and other local media. “This is according to very limited intelligence deputies have gathered in recent drug-related investigations across the area in the past weeks.”

When news of the sheriff’s warning broke, leaders within Chillicothe, Ohio–based Adena Health System convened a special planning meeting to ensure that its facilities in and around Pike County would be prepared in case an influx in opioid overdoses, or any other incident, did materialize, says Jason Gilham, BA, Adena’s communications manager.

“We operate a daily patient safety huddle every single morning at 9:30 a.m., which brings together … one representative from across the health system in, I think, about 18 different departments, from surgical, our emergency department, communications security, housekeeping, all across the board,” Gilham says.

Law enforcement contacts are key

The sheriff’s warning came up during the 15-minute huddle that Monday, and the group decided to schedule a follow-up meeting Tuesday with key players to discuss the matter in greater detail.

“That gave our security team a chance to touch base again with the local law enforcement, whether that be in Ross County and in Pike County, with a little bit more detail, just to kind of get a greater feel for where they stood and the latest information,” Gilham says. (Chillicothe is in Ross County, which shares a border with Pike County.)

The hospital leaders revisited the system’s emergency response plans and asked whether workers could use a refresher on what to do, for instance, in the event of a lockdown, Gilham says. They also decided to add an off-duty officer for the July 4 weekend at Adena Pike Medical Center, the system’s 25-bed critical access hospital in Waverly, Ohio, which is the Pike County seat.

Furthermore, the system’s pharmacy department checked with all Adena facilities in the area to ensure that each had a sufficient supply of the opioid overdose–reversing drug Narcan® (naloxone).
“It was just kind of bringing everybody up to speed and having that comfort level going into the weekend,” Gilham says.

Threat did not materialize

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office distanced itself from Reader’s warning. “We are not involved with this,” spokeswoman Jill Del Greco said, according to the Dayton Daily News.

The alert was greeted with skepticism from other law enforcement in the area, too. Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini said there was “absolutely” no credible evidence that the gangs listed in the warning were present in the county he oversees, which lies just south of Pike County.

“The public is urged to be responsible and to refrain from circulating ‘unverified’ facts,” Donini said in a press release, as reported by Columbus, Ohio–based NBC4. “[T]o do so simply fuels hysteria and pandemonium within our community.”

Donini said he had investigated the matter and consulted the Southern Ohio Drug Task Force after several Scioto County residents voiced concerns about social media posts and news reports.

Reader shot back with another Facebook post, arguing that Donini’s office was not involved in executing the search warrants and conducting the interviews that led to the alert being issued.

“Scioto County would NOT have the information that we obtained in aggressively attacking the drug epidemic in Pike County,” Reader wrote. “I’m sure they stay busy enough in Scioto County.”

Opioid-related trips to the ED have risen dramatically over the past decade in Ohio, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). While rates of opioid-related ED visits have approximately doubled nationwide since 2007, they have nearly quadrupled in Ohio, where rates have held consistently above the national average, according to AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/).

Deputies in Pike County have been cracking down on heroin dealers recently, with one recent raid garnering nearly $10,000 and 42 grams of fentanyl-laced heroin, as Cincinnati-based Fox19 reported.
Reader would later say that the information about the possible criminal activity had been gathered after executing search warrants and conducting interviews, and noted that at least one person arrested during those investigations was confirmed as a gang member.

Fortunately, the preparations by Adena proved to be just an exercise in readiness. No spike in drug overdoses or other gang-related activity was reported during the weekend.

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