Francesco Lentini (pictured right) has a warning: plan for an emergency evacuation, because unexpected things can, and do, happen.

Unfortunately, Francesco knows this first-hand. It was while they were undertaking a renovation at their Mairangi Bay practice that disaster struck. 

“It was 7.30am on a Monday morning when the builders contacted me to say the entire practice was deemed ‘off limits’ and had to be evacuated immediately, because they’d found asbestos in the roof,” says Francesco.

“If someone had said to me, tomorrow you’re moving out of your practice for two months and you can’t take anything with you, I would never have believed them – but that’s exactly what happened. One minute we’re organising a normal day’s consults, and the next we’re sending everyone away and wondering how on earth we could look after our patients. It was surreal.”

Fortunately, after a fairly shocking and upsetting start to the week, what happened next was overwhelmingly positive.

 

“Our practice is one of the largest on the North Shore and serves 9500 patients,” says Francesco. “As soon as we were ordered to close our doors, we contacted our neighbouring practices to warn them of a potential influx of patients. Their response was simply amazing.

“Everyone was so helpful; we were overwhelmed by the collegiality and concern. I suppose they recognised that they too could have found themselves in our position. The teams at Browns Bay Medical Centre and Northcare Accident & Medical were particularly supportive. They went out of their way to help, offering us space in their premises, which effectively allowed us to stay in business and keep caring for our patients.”

Francesco says he learnt many lessons as a result of this experience, not least of which is the value of having a good relationship with your neighbouring practices. But he also has some practical tips practice owners should consider regarding emergency evacuations.

“We had an emergency plan, but when push came to shove, we realised we were not as prepared as we could have been. There’s a big difference between ‘talking’ about an emergency and literally having five minutes to evacuate your premises without taking anything with you.

“Our two major challenges were telephony and IT. We couldn’t take our computer server or any files with us, and while we had some remote IT access, the system collapsed under the additional workload we were trying to impose.   

“We spent the first 24 hours making phone calls to patients who had appointments booked to let them know we were closed. After we took up the offer of rooms at Browns Bay and Northcare, we had to contact them again to re-book appointments.

“Then we realised we had to contact all 9500 patients to tell them what had happened, where they could find us, and how they could make an appointment in future. We ended up using website notices and texts – and we even posted letters to ensure we kept everyone up to date. It was quite trying, but our patients were very understanding.

“It’s not a situation I would wish on anyone, but we certainly learnt a lot from it.”

Francesco’s top tips for preparing for an unexpected evacuation:

  1. Have a cloud-hosted PMS, so that if you have no access to the premises where the server is kept, or the server is permanently damaged, you can continue practising from any location with no disruption. A simple daily back-up is obviously not enough. 
  2.  Same for telephones: get a cloud-based telephone system. 
  3. Make sure you have your patients’ contact details up to date, particularly their mobile numbers, as mass text messaging is a useful means of communicating in these circumstances.
  4. Make sure you have a true agreement with a local practice or place, where you could move your operations. This is a requirement of CORNERSTONE®, but it’s important to make sure it is actually a viable option.
  5. Always wear a smile and stay positive. Your staff will rely on the partners for guidance, and panicking does not help.