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New Report Proposes Actions to Make the US Healthcare System Better Prepared for Catastrophic Health Events

MARCH 8, 2010—Baltimore, MD—A new report from the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC finds that, while U.S. hospitals are significantly better prepared for disasters and public health emergencies now than they were in 2001, much work remains to be done, especially in preparing for catastrophic health events such as large earthquakes, pandemic influenza, or the aftermath of nuclear or biological terrorism. The report notes that a catastrophic health event could sicken or injure tens of thousands of victims.

The Next Challenge in Healthcare Preparedness: Catastrophic Health Events was released on Friday, March 5, 2010, at a conference convened by the Center for Biosecurity to consider lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and implications for future infectious disease emergencies. In announcing the release of the report, Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, Director and CEO of the Center, said, “This report presents a serious analysis of healthcare preparedness issues as well as concrete actions that can be taken to improve our nation’s ability to withstand a catastrophic health event.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Every U.S. hospital should participate in a healthcare coalition that prepares and responds collaboratively to common disasters and catastrophic health events.
  • Links should be established among neighboring healthcare coalitions to enable regional exchange of healthcare information and assets during an event.
  • Out-of-hospital triage sites should be established and healthcare responders should be trained in triage.
  • A patient transport system that harnesses alternative, private sector resources should be created.
  • Crisis standards of care should be expanded, and they should be consistently implemented within and across states.
  • A national framework for healthcare response to catastrophic health events should be developed to guide states, jurisdictions, and local entities in developing plans for medical and public health activities.

The study was produced under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. The Center was charged with conducting an independent evaluation of the HHS Hospital Preparedness Program and developing recommendations for improving and evaluating future healthcare preparedness efforts. The program was established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve hospitals’ preparedness for all types of disasters.

The report follows on a previous report from this HHS contract, Hospitals Rising to the Challenge: The First Five Years of the U.S. Hospital Preparedness Program and Priorities Going Forward, which was released in April 2009. That study described the ways in which U.S. hospitals have improved their readiness for the kinds of common disasters that the country has seen in recent years, such as hurricanes, a bridge collapse, and mass shootings. But the study also concluded that the healthcare system was not well prepared for a catastrophic disaster.

This new report focuses on ways to better prepare the health system for disasters of all sizes, including catastrophic events. The specific actions proposed are consistent with the recently released National Health Security Strategy and would improve the country’s resilience to both a terrorist attack by weapons of mass destruction and a catastrophic natural disaster.

The study’s findings are based on 2 years of research and analysis, including interviews with more than 200 individuals involved with healthcare preparedness in every state across the country.

The full report is available at http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/pubs_archive/pubs-pdfs/2010/2010-01-29-prepreport.pdf

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