US Hospitals Improve Disaster Preparedness
U.S. hospitals are significantly better prepared for disasters and public health emergencies now than they were in 2001, but much work remains to be done, according to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center study.
The study by the university’s Center for Biosecurity was released today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The study was produced under contract with the agency.
The center was charged with conducting an independent evaluation of the HHS Hospital Preparedness Program and the program’s impact on health care preparedness for mass casualty disasters. The program was established by the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve hospitals’ preparedness for all types of disasters.
“Hospitals are the foundation of the local health care response to man-made and natural disasters. Each community’s success in responding and recovering depends in no small part on how well prepared the local hospital is to withstand and respond to disaster,” said Dr. Craig Vanderwagen, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. “The HHS Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) has continually worked with states and local communities to bolster that planning and response capability across the country.”
The study evaluated the first five years of the program from 2002 to 2007. It found that the most useful indicators for measuring the preparedness of hospitals are ability to surge to accommodate additional patients during disasters, how well hospitals do in training their staff for disasters and realistic exercises, and how well hospitals perform during actual disasters.
Hospital senior leaders now actively support and participate in preparedness activities, hospital emergency operations plans are more comprehensive and better coordinated with community emergency plans and local hazards, and disaster training has become more rigorous, the report said.
As additional indicators of improvement, hospitals have stockpiled emergency supplies and medicines, have improved communication systems and conduct more frequent and higher quality disaster exercises than in the past, the study said.
The study showed that HPP has been the catalyst for new health care coalitions throughout the country. As a result, it said, many communities can now respond more effectively to disasters. Through these coalitions, hospitals are now working collaboratively on disaster preparedness with other hospitals, public health departments and emergency managers.
The report also found that health care planning for catastrophic emergencies at the individual hospital level is still in the early stages and that a large-scale emergency could “overwhelm the medical capabilities of communities, regions or the entire country and require drastic departures from customary health care practices.” The report concluded that bridging this gap would require significant changes in the way health care is delivered.
“Hospitals have made tremendous improvements with the funding and guidance the program provides, and we recognize that much remains to be done for our nation to become fully prepared for catastrophic public health and medical emergencies,” Vanderwagen said. “Continual progress requires a sustained commitment and partnership among all levels of government, private industry and non-government organizations.”
The study’s findings are based on a year of research and analysis, including interviews with 133 individuals involved with hospital preparedness in every state and at local levels across the country.