How I prepared my acupuncture and massage practice for Hurricane Irma

In 2017, Southwest Florida braced for impact from Hurricane Irma. I was on medical leave from my newspaper job as well as my acupuncture and massage practice after surgery, but I got clearance from my surgeon days before to resume light-duty activities. I spent a not-so-light weekend with my family preparing my home and my business for the worst.

Port Charlotte was lucky. Although some models predicted we would sustain a direct hit, Irma took a bit of a southward bend and hit Naples instead. It may seem like all our preparations were for naught, but I considered it a good exercise in disaster preparedness for my business. There’s a lot of articles about preparing your practice for a hurricane, but they don’t tell you anything beyond the basics that residents shouldn’t already know, and nothing about the specifics of what you should do before a storm to minimize your property losses….

So here’s what I did. Some of it is specific to acupuncture but most of it is good advice for acupuncture, massage, or a skin care practice, and good advice in general for a business. I’m assuming from this point that you have taken all reasonable precautions to secure your family’s safety and followed standard disaster preparedness protocols and still have the time to safely attend to your business storm plan…

BEFORE THE STORM:
1) UPLOAD DOCUMENTS TO A CLOUD STORAGE SERVICE: Save current pictures of all areas of your office, inside and out, insurance documents, equipment inventory, sharps logs, biohazard plan, licenses, NPI numbers, important contacts, etc. Make sure you have as much of that accessible on the cloud as possible in the event you need to file a claim.
2) BACKUP IMPORTANT FILES: June 1 is the start of hurricane season. Why not schedule your computer backups for the week before?

PRIORITY ACTION LIST:
1) SECURE SHARPS: When the storm tracking models started swaying our way, we still had a few days of lead time, so I contacted my sharps disposal company and had them pick up all of my sharps containers, even if they weren’t full. I remember after Hurricane Charley seeing tons of personal property strewn all over the streets, and there was no way I wanted one of my sharps containers to end up on the street, even if I did seal them first. Just because you safely secure your sharps inside your unit does not mean they will stay there if disaster strikes. Ditto for wall-mounted sharps containers. I consider it to be the most critical prep to cross off your list.
2) SECURE CLIENT FILES: During Irma, I was part of a holistic clinic at New Hope Chiropractic, and our client files were stored in a common area. There wasn’t much we could do to improve where they were or move them. I’m assuming you already have your files in the safest, most secure part of your office away from windows and in the interior of your unit. We covered everything in the front office with as many heavy-duty trash bags as we could fit to prevent water intrusion and wrapped everything else. But what about files you transport off site? A hard-shell, locking case is your best option. In the event your vehicle is compromised or in an accident, you want your files to have the best chance to stay intact and inaccessible to the public.
3) SECURE YOUR ELECTRONICS: Since most practices these days have electronic health records, it’s important to treat your laptops or desktops like patient files. This year, I plan to keep plastic bins on hand to store all the computer equipment, and to be double safe, I would double bag the equipment with heavy duty garbage bags before putting it in the plastic bin. A bit much, you say? Aside from your treatment table and professional supplies, your computer / client files are the second most important thing you need to get your practice up and running ASAP after a disaster. And wrapped equipment in opaque plastic bins won’t be as flashy in case looting becomes an issue post disaster. Ditto for modems, phones and credit card machines. I’m not so concerned about my printers, but we did cover them, too. If time permits, I would box these too.

PHASE TWO PREPARATIONS
1) SPECIALTY EQUIPMENT: Bag and wrap all high-end equipment, and if possible, relocate to interior closets away from windows and doors. Bonus points if you have locking closets.
2) UNUSED NEEDLES, LANCETS, ETC: I took those offsite but this year I plan to have a specific plastic opaque bin for my supplies.
3) TREATMENT TABLES: Bag and wrap all your treatment tables and relocate those to the safest interior spot in the unit. During Irma preparations, I couldn’t find my massage table carrying case, and my table ended up with some minor dings. Make sure you know where the cases and carts for your equipment are before a storm threatens.
4) PRESCRIPTION FORMULAS, HERBS, TOPICALS, ETC: Chinese medicinals are not vitamins. They are patient specific and definitely not candy, either. If you don’t already keep them in a locked cabinet, bag and box them and relocate to an interior closet. I used large zippy bags with handles so I could carry them off site. Secure the rest of your inventory depending on your time constraints.

PHASE THREE PREPARATIONS:
If you get all the other stuff done, here’s some non-essential prep ideas that could come in handy if your area is hit:
1) STRIP THE WALLS: I took everything off my walls that had glass, and wrapped all my diplomas. I worked hard for those diplomas; to me, the originals would be irreplaceable. Aside from making sure there would be a minimum of glass breakage, it was purely an emotional preparation for me, taking care of the items close to my heart. It’s totally skippable if the situation is urgent.
2) HYGEINE SUPPLIES: Toilet paper, paper towers, feminine items… if you have extra time and an extra garbage bag, bag those up. If you have water intrusion and the area is cut off from normal transport lanes, dry goods will be a godsend. During Irma, gas was scarce for a while, even for areas that did not receive a direct hit. In a storm situation it’s best to assume that supplies of all kinds might be hard to come by even if damage isn’t bad in your area. So save what you’ve got.
3) BACKUP FOOD, WATER AND FIRST AID SUPPLIES: We all know when storm season is coming. So if you’re on target with your personal preparations, why not have backup in the office, too?
4) BACKUP YOUR FILES, ONE MORE TIME: In case it’s been a few weeks, or months, since your last one.

This emergency plan may or may not make sense for your practice, but it can start as a template for writing your own. Don’t assume you will remember to do everything in an emergency; make whatever preparations and lists are appropriate for you and keep them handy for when you need it. Here’s hoping you don’t….

Nicole Noles Collins is a licensed acupuncture physician and massage therapist in Florida. Nicole has two bachelor’s degrees – Alternative Medicine and Professional Health Sciences – as well as a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a passion for both writing and natural health. Please visit her website at www.pcacupuncture.abmp.com and like her Facebook page at Vitalichi Acupuncture.

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