Thursday, April 23, 2009

Evaluation Shows Significant Improvement in Local Hospitals' 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

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.

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