Time to dust off your healthcare organisation’s business continuity plan—we did, before the fire…

Monday, March 19, 2018

‘It was the worst of times as well as the best of times for us last year at Merri Health in Melbourne’, says Merri Health CEO Nigel Fidgeon.

‘Our head office was totally destroyed by fire in the very early hours of Monday 3 July, thankfully without any resulting injuries.’

‘But it also became the best of times because, by working together efficiently and effectively, guided by a recently updated business continuity plan, we had the organisation, with 400 staff and a turnover of more than $36 million operating across 11 sites,  remaining fully operational throughout the period with new corporate offices established within 5 business days.’

‘We basically lost everything—the whole corporate office, IT equipment, records, management files, building plans, corporate history, funding agreements, and most of what we needed for end-of-financial-year processing. We are so thankful that we had a plan in place that we could follow immediately when there was no time to lose.

‘I know such thoughts about a business continuity plan sound idealistic. None of us truly envisaged ever having to enact it. But the unthinkable did happen. Because of that I felt compelled to write about how we developed and used the plan in the hope that it could help other healthcare organisations.’

The resulting paper, Planning and enacting a business continuity and disaster recovery strategy successfully in a health service, has been published as a Perspectives Brief by the AHHA’s Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research.

‘Our Crisis Response Team used the clear and concise guidance available in the plan to quickly initiate, coordinate and implement the necessary procedures and activities in the aftermath of the fire’, Mr Fidgeon said.

‘Critical business areas such as Finance, Facilities and Information Technology were obvious priorities. But, equally, so was the wellbeing of staff and ensuring no disruption to the vast array of client services we deliver on a daily basis over metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. Daily updates notifying all staff of the current status of the organisation’s recovery, and key actions and activities, were very well received—staff reported feeling motivated to help in any way they could whenever required.

‘Strong and collaborative relationships with key providers and suppliers, as well as insurers and assessors, were also extremely useful in being able to re-establish facilities, hire suitable accommodation, and buy and configure equipment very rapidly’, Mr Fidgeon said.

‘Not everything went smoothly—and we have been upfront about that in the paper. We learned a lot from those experiences, which will help us, and perhaps others, to make sure those aspects are fully covered in future.

‘For example a crisis management plan setting out in detail the various roles of key staff would have helped in preventing some issues from slipping through the cracks. Also, we did not fully anticipate the strength of feeling of shock and loss experienced by staff. It was tough that, for understandable safety reasons, they were unable to salvage any personal items that may have survived the fire, as a form of closure.’

For more information on the AHHA and the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, visit http://ahha.asn.au.

The Perspectives Brief is available at https://ahha.asn.au/publication/deeble-institute-perspectives-brief/deeble-perspectives-brief-planning-and-enacting .

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association is the national peak body for public and not-for-profit hospitals, and community and primary healthcare services.

Media enquiries:

Nigel Fidgeon, Chief Executive, Merri Health - 0400 543 884