With the development of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Healthcare Preparedness Capabilities: National Guidance for Healthcare System Preparedness, local health departments across the country have now begun to partner with healthcare coalitions and healthcare organizations on emergency preparedness planning, training, and exercises.
Healthcare planning begins with partnerships that can break down walls to allow healthcare providers and their public health and emergency management partners to work together. The National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference brought together many of these stakeholders to promote strategies for regional healthcare readiness through healthcare coalitions.
The few Ebola cases that surfaced in the United States revealed gaps in the public health plans for such illnesses. Although these cases enhanced education to the public and engaged congressional interest, these efforts must continue to be sustained for future threats. In addition, some critical issues, such as quarantine procedures, remain unresolved.
As hospitals fill with patients and the cost of medical care rises, the use of community paramedicine also may increase. To fill the gap between routine doctor visits and emergency transport to hospitals, communities have the opportunity to expand the use of highly trained paramedics to better serve their populations' urgent-care needs.
Staying "connected" has become a common way of life, but sometimes natural or manmade forces can sever these connections. During life-saving operations, inaction is not an option. Emergency medical services agencies need to have a back-up plan when everyday technology fails and personnel must implement "old-school" techniques.
The first U.S. case of Ebola has been confirmed in Texas, so what once was considered a "foreign" disease is now on domestic soil. The key question is, "Are U.S. healthcare workers prepared?" Although it takes time, it is never too late to build awareness, provide protection, and implement procedures.
In 1900, writer Rudyard Kipling created a story about "The Elephant's Child" that would not stop asking questions. More than 100 years later, planners must ask similarly tough questions in order to protect critical infrastructure assets that could have devastating ripple effects should they cease functioning.
Medical examiners/coroners are an integral part of a mass fatality response, but they are not always included during the pre-planning phase. The process of responding to living versus deceased victims is very different, so it is important to understand before the incident where to stage, decontaminate, store, examine, identify, and release human remains, and who will perform each task.
In January 2014, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Forum on Medical and Public Health Preparedness for Catastrophic Events released a white paper listing seven recommendations to enhance the sustainability of preparedness efforts in the United States. The IOM paper reflects on relevant past accomplishments, the current state of public health preparedness, and future public health requirements to stay viable, sustainable, and effective.
Adequate defense for a bioterrorism attack requires fortification of the public health infrastructure as well as the establishment and continuance of a good healthcare system. With the potential to spread rapidly with and between communities, bioagents as weapons pose a significant threat to U.S. communities that require greater attention on a national scale.