Safeguarding Children During Public Health Emergencies

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) today released two new tools designed to protect and care for children who are in a hospital or a school during a public health emergency.

The first tool consists of guidelines to assist pediatric hospitals in converting from standard operating capacity to surge capacity and help community hospital emergency departments provide care for large numbers of critically ill children. The tool addresses needs such as communications, staff responsibilities, triaging, stress management, and security concerns when handling large numbers of children with either communicable respiratory diseases or communicable foodborne or waterborne illnesses.

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Emergency response planners have to take into account differences between children and adults such as children's faster breathing rates, immature immune systems, limited self-preservation skills, greater risk of illness from exposure to extreme heat or cold, and greater risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The Nation's hospitals play a critical role in treating illnesses and injuries in children during public health emergencies," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "If natural disasters, such as a hurricane, or acts of terrorism, such as the release of anthrax, were to occur, hospitals need to be prepared for handling them."

The second tool is a national model for school-based emergency response planning. It provides guidance on the recommended steps for both creating and implementing a school-based emergency response plan. Steps outlined include performing needs assessments, conducting site surveys, developing training modules for school staff, and informing parents of the plan, as well as steps relating to building security and safety, preparation for large-scale emergencies, sheltering-in-place and lockdown, evacuation, relocation, and communications.

Included with the guidance is a model school-based emergency response plan developed by the Brookline, Mass., school district in cooperation with the Center for Biopreparedness, the division of Harvard Medical School that prepared both sets of guidelines under contract to AHRQ.

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