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Are Hospitals Prepared? February 4, 2009

Posted by Joy Lee in Prevention.

The use of biological pathogens could possibly be one of the worst methods of terrorism that any nation could face, not to mention a complete nightmare for hospitals and public health officials.  Although the use of bioterrorism is not novel in the U.S., such as the salmonella attacks in salad bars in Oregon by the Rajneeshee cult in 1984, it wasn’t until recently when the concept of bioterrorism began to receive more attention. (You can read more about the Oregon attack here.) After the anthrax attacks in 2001, this reality became more evident to the nation.  In addition to the threats of bioterrorism, recent emerging diseases (such as SARS or the avian flu), and food safety issues (recent salmonella contaminated peanut butter), are also forcing policy makers and public health officials re-examine the capacity of hospitals and other healthcare facilities in emergency situations.

Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) , a non-profit organization that conducts research and advocates disease prevention in the nation, produced its 6th annual report on whether or not the nation’s public health was ready for disease, disaster and bioterrorism.  According to TFAH’s website on the report,

“the progress made to better protect the country from disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and bioterrorism is now at risk, due to budget cuts and the economic crisis. In addition, the report concludes that major gaps remain in many critical areas of preparedness, including surge capacity, rapid disease detection, and food safety.”

The report found that more than half of the States scored seven or less out of ten in health preparedness when assessing emergency preparedness capabilities.  In addition, many states also do not have means to support and protect the community during a major emergency.  This report is a must read by any public health officials and policy makers in order to better prepare the nation in kind of emergency.

It seems as if the new administration understand the importance of health preparedness and mitigation as biosecurity is part of the new administration’s homeland security agenda:

“Build Capacity to Mitigate the Consequences of Bioterror Attacks: Ensure that decision-makers have the information and communication tools they need to manage disease outbreaks by linking health care providers, hospitals, and public health agencies. A well-planned, well-rehearsed, and rapidly executed epidemic response can dramatically diminish the consequences of biological attacks.”

Let’s just hope that they do place priority in public health emergency preparedness and place adequate funding to ensure the protection of the nation’s people.

Update: After I wrote this piece, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention’s (CIDRAP) announced the news that the House of Representatives passed an economic bill (for $819 billion) that included funding for pandemic influenza and bioterrorism countermeasures.  I guess the new administration is moving towards the right direction after all.  So now let’s wait and see where the funding will actually be applied for.



1. Mark - February 5, 2009

Dear Joy,

Thanks for your post. Unfortunately many hospitals still are not able to readily and properly handle even one Tb patient, in my experience, compromising healthcare worker’s and other patients health and safety. I am hopeful that the new administration’s efforts on reform will improve this situation. Keep up your posting!

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