CVHC’s Regional Healthcare Coordinating Centers provide emergency management and resource coordination during major events.

FirstNet Keeps Healthcare Coalition Connected and Prepared

The tragedies of September 11, 2001, highlighted the need for improvements to the communication systems used by public safety agencies.

The First Responder Network Authority and FirstNet were created to provide a nationwide interoperable communications network for public safety after some first responders experienced difficulties communicating across agencies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created the Hospital Preparedness Program after seeing that the nation’s healthcare system was not adequately prepared for the number of people who could be seeking assistance in the aftermath of a catastrophic health emergency. This program led to the formation of healthcare coalitions across the country, consisting of local and regional healthcare institutions and responding agencies that collaboratively prepare for, and respond to, emergencies.

The Central Virginia Healthcare Coalition, or CVHC, is one of six coalitions in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Communication is critical for CVHC to access resources, connect with partners, and serve its communities. The coalition uses FirstNet as a tool to keep it connected, day in and day out, and to help make crucial decisions during major events.

Connecting Healthcare Agencies in Central Virginia

CVHC serves 27 jurisdictions in the south-central part of the state. CVHC members include 17 acute care hospitals, eight freestanding emergency departments, and 54 long-term care facilities. The coalition works with members to plan, train, and respond to planned events and emergencies in the region. The coalition also operates a Regional Healthcare Coordinating Center that acts as a centralized center to connect members, public safety agencies, and other emergency operations centers during incidents.

CVHC staff provide emergency management and resource coordination during major events. This can include requesting assets from other regions, the state, or the federal government; coordinating where and how to move patients; and sharing information and updates among first responders and the healthcare facilities. In order to remain connected across the region as it carries out these duties, CHVC is using FirstNet for daily operations and in its response to COVID-19.

Using FirstNet Every Day and for Every Emergency

Steve Parrott, CVHC Program Director and Regional Healthcare Coordinator, came to the coalition after serving the Chesterfield County Fire and EMS for more than 34 years, retiring as a Battalion Chief in Emergency Operations. After seeing how FirstNet could support communications for EMS and other first responders, he realized hospitals and healthcare agencies could also benefit from the network, as these organizations work closely with EMS professionals every day. Interoperability and the ability to maintain constant communications are critical to ensuring patients receive the best possible care. Parrott explained, “After seeing the connectivity FirstNet provides, I became an advocate for healthcare coalitions to leverage this resource. I’ve seen the perks and the dividends it pays for organizations like ours – it keeps us connected and able to access and share the data that we need to support our members.”

The need for reliable, fast communication has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition received many requests to assist with transporting personal protective equipment (PPE) between healthcare agencies. When CVHC needed to exchange PPE supplies between facilities in Richmond, Virginia, and Chesapeake, Virginia, a FirstNet-enabled hotspot device kept staff connected through the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel System and remote areas of the drive.

In addition, CVHC is using FirstNet when it responds to requests for assistance from member facilities. CVHC Hospital Readiness and Response Coordinator Jay Lovelady responded to a hospital fire where twenty patients needed to be relocated. Jay was able to seamlessly gather data on availability in other hospitals, access databases, and communicate with his colleagues and other public safety agencies. He said FirstNet enabled him to make informed, in-the-moment decisions to keep the patients safe.

FirstNet also supports CVHC’s Regional Healthcare Coordinating Center, also known as the RHCC, with redundant connectivity to ensure continuity of operations during major events. And if an incident occurs that requires the CVHC’s mobile field hospital, decontamination equipment, or mortuary, Parrott and Lovelady appreciate how FirstNet supports the connectivity of those assets.

When planning for large events or protests, CVHC works with its member organizations to create a communications plan. When large crowds gather, cellular networks can become stressed with attendees on their phones. During those events, CVHC staff and responding public safety agencies need a reliable network connection to communicate and access the resources they need. CVHC helps the organizations plan and prepare to understand what resources will be used that will require cellular broadband, and they rely on FirstNet to provide them with priority and preemption, allowing them to cut through network congestion and continue coordinating services. “When crowds gather and pull on that bandwidth, it takes someone like Jay there to help ensure our member organizations can communicate. If he can’t get connected, he can’t access the resources he needs. So, having FirstNet to keep us connected is so important in these scenarios,” emphasized Parrott.

Keeping Healthcare Facilities Connected

CVHC is able to take advantage of the benefits of FirstNet as a member of the extended community of professionals who support first responders during and in the aftermath of emergencies. When catastrophic events happen, healthcare coalitions like CVHC help manage resources and communicate with public safety, local and state governments, and other hospitals. Staff at these facilities must be able to communicate with first responders and one another in order to coordinate resources and treat patients quickly and efficiently. FirstNet provides a platform for interoperability among all public safety agencies so they can focus on protecting and serving people in need.

“We’ve been very involved with the conversations around interoperability in the region. We participate in discussions with the Regional Preparedness Advisory Committee for Interoperability. Bringing together healthcare, public safety, essential utilities, and government agencies ensures all voices are represented,” Jay Lovelady said. “Through conversations with groups like this, we have gained some great resources that keep us connected, like FirstNet. We’re thankful for that connectivity and the opportunities it provides for us as we serve our community.

For more information on the Central Virginia Healthcare Coalition, visit central-region.org

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