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Community Healthcare Network: Preparing medical services for the next storm with Office 365

Hurricane Sandy provides the catalyst for improved communications at Community Healthcare Network

CHN Downtown NYC Location

CHN’s downtown location.

It was an October like any other … until the hurricane hit. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy, one of the worst storms in US history, hit the entire eastern seaboard, and the greater New York City area was affected particularly hard. Streets and subway lines flooded, millions of citizens were without electricity, and more than 80 people died in New York and New Jersey alone.

Fire, police, and emergency medical personnel were called upon for help. As one of those first responders, Community Healthcare Network (CHN)—a not-for-profit organization that treats more than 75,000 members of underserved, vulnerable populations throughout New York City each year—needed to spring into action, not just to handle its regular case load but also to stay in constant contact with government organizations so that together they could help victims throughout the storm. Because CHN provides everything from mental health care and social services to primary and dental care, it was critical that the organization stay poised to respond to patients in need.

The Eye of the Hurricane

CHN administrators typically rely on email to broadcast information to clinicians and support staff at its 12 health centers about staffing, operating hours, and emergency procedures. But Sandy wreaked havoc on the organization’s email servers. “We lost power on Sunday and spent a couple of days completely out of our comfort zone without email—we depend on it as our most business-critical communication channel,” recalls Catherine Abate, CHN’s President and CEO. “With multiple staff members calling multiple locations to deliver messages, our senior executive team worried that the integrity of the information was getting lost in translation. We didn’t want to confuse our patients or our staff. We also weren’t as available to our emergency service partners as we’d like to be.”

A Safety Net

By that Wednesday, CHN’s IT team had developed a plan. “We were able to quickly restore email capabilities by leveraging Microsoft Office 365,” explains CHN’s Assistant Vice President of Technology, Jason Pomaski. Of course, this leap to cloud computing for CHN wasn’t out of the blue, according to Pomaski.

CHN's mobile medical van in action.

CHN’s mobile medical van in action.

“We had been considering a move to the cloud for quite some time for disaster recovery and business continuity, but the key with Office 365 is that it enables us to be HIPAA compliant, which is critical for us as a healthcare organization.”

With email capabilities at the ready, CHN executives and members of its Emergency Management Committee could give clear instructions and stay available to other emergency service providers. “We had no real learning curve—Office 365 was easy to grasp and use from iOS, Android, and Windows phones and laptops, so we could get right to work coordinating efforts to serve patients,” says Pomaski.

The Calm After the Storm

Following the hurricane, CHN could have returned to business as usual, but the organization’s experience with Office 365 spurred it to move forward with a full-scale adoption, not just for email but for a range of other capabilities, including web conferencing, sharing and syncing documents in the cloud, and presence functionality, which displays each individual’s level of availability, making it easy for anyone in the CHN system to instantly find a colleague and use the best method to reach that person. “Now, if disaster strikes, we have powerful communication options,” says CHN’s Vice President of Administration, Chris Quiñones. “Even during regular circumstances, we can be more connected while still protecting patient information.

Dr. Taddeo with a patient.

Dr. Taddeo with a patient.

For example, our community outreach coordinators immediately save a record of each patient interaction to Office 365, so those records are available right away to clinicians who need them.”

Adds Dr. Gregory Taddeo, Director of Dentistry at CHN, “I appreciate all the tools that I have at my fingertips for communicating with reporting dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants, all of whom are spread across several locations. I use Office 365 for videoconferencing with them, and I look forward to using it from my Windows Phone, which will add to my flexibility.”

Taking Care

CHN is taking further steps to improve its already excellent standard of care. “Using Office 365 significantly reduces our capital expenses, so we can buy better clinical equipment and improve patient facilities,” says Quiñones. “Plus, we are taking advantage of federation with other healthcare organizations, giving us seamless communication and collaboration that enhances patient care.”

For example, CHN care managers in the Health Homes Program act as the central point for directing care, which may be provided through several outside services. Care managers use federated Office 365 capabilities to send encrypted emails and securely share patient data for consistent, coordinated care.

The goal of CHN is to help patients get well and then keep them healthy, regardless of obstacles. Everybody at CHN hopes that they never experience a storm like Hurricane Sandy again, but if they do, they’re ready. “We believe that using advanced communication technology such as Office 365 puts us in a position to continue to serve our community with excellence, not just during emergencies but during day-to-day business,” says Pomaski.

The Technologies Involved

CHN uses a number of Office 365 products to help the organization support its variety of employees and the populations they serve. The organization’s email capabilities come from Microsoft Exchange Online, staff and providers conduct web conferencing through Microsoft Lync Online, and they share, sync, and collaborate on documents using Microsoft OneDrive for Business.

Visit the Microsoft news center to read the CHN Office 365 news release.