Ridge To Ask Hospitals to Develop Terrorism Response Plans
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge today is expected to urge members of the American Hospital Association to draft contingency plans for treating a "sudden influx" of patients due to terrorism or a natural disaster, the Detroit Free Press reports (Borenstein, Detroit Free Press, 4/8). Experts say that providers' planning for mass casualty incidents has "barely begun," the Washington Post reports. Hospitals and health systems must determine what type of disaster to plan for and how to make preparations without "neglecting" other public health responsibilities. Mohammed Akhter, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said, "Prior to Sept. 11, we were focused on the HIV/AIDS problem, focused on teenage pregnancy, focused on immunizing kids. Those things are now on the back burner" (Okie, Washington Post, 4/7). One area of concern for hospitals is increasing their "surge capacity," particularly because over the last two decades, many hospitals have downsized or closed in response to "belt-tightening measures." The Bush administration has indicated that it will withhold a state's share of $1.6 billion in federal bioterrorism funding if it does not increase surge capacity (Detroit Free Press, 4/8). In Maryland, officials have developed a plan to free up to 800 of the more than 15,000 hospital beds in the state in the event of a mass casualty incident (Washington Post, 4/7). In addition, many communities are "improvising solutions" to handle a sudden increase in patients. For example, New York City plans to use convention centers and armories as "makeshift hospitals." Other areas plan to use hotels and motels, where individual rooms would help prevent the spread of infectious diseases (Baltimore Sun, 4/8).
Health officials and providers have also begun to work on improving identification of a bioterrorism attack in order to respond "rapidly and decisively" and "handle the inrush" of patients, the Post reports. Across the nation, public health officials are showing an "unprecedented level of vigilance" for monitoring their areas' "vital signs." In a system called "syndromic surveillance," public health officials look for early signs of disease outbreak by monitoring ambulance runs, elementary school absences and sales of over-the-counter flu treatments. However, critics say the system in the past has never successfully "picked up" on a disease outbreak, raising concerns about large-scale use of such systems, the Post reports (Washington Post, 4/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.