The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced yesterday that this year's package of grants to support emergency preparedness for local public health agencies and healthcare systems will total about $840 million, the same as last year's amount.
The funds for fiscal year 2015 include $611.75 million in Public Health Emergency Program (PHEP) grants and $228.5 million in Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) grants, HHS announced.
Until now, those amounts had generally declined each year since the programs were established in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2013 the combined total for the programs was $916 million.
Support for local readiness
HHS said the two programs provide resources to ensure that local communities can respond effectively to infectious disease outbreaks, natural disasters, or chemical, biological, or radiological nuclear events.
The PHEP grants are administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the HPP money flows through HHS's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
"PHEP funding is used to advance additional public health preparedness and response capabilities among state and local health departments," HHS noted. "Preparedness activities funded by the PHEP cooperative agreement are targeted specifically for the development of emergency-ready public health departments that are flexible and adaptable."
Health departments use HPP funds to build healthcare preparedness capabilities through regional healthcare coalitions that encourage "diverse and often competitive organizations" to work together, the agency said. Coalitions work to ensure that each member has the necessary medical equipment and supplies, information, communication systems, and personnel to respond to an emergency.
HHS said there are about 500 such regional coalitions across the country, composed of about 24,000 organizations, such as hospitals, emergency medical service providers, emergency management associations, long-term care facilities, behavioral health organizations, and public health agencies.
Under both programs, each state or other jurisdiction receives a standard base grant and an additional amount based on population. The HPP grants range from less than $1 million for some small-population states to $23.2 million for California, while the state PHEP grants range from about $4 million to almost $36 million.
Criticism over cuts
In a comment on this year's funding, the executive director of the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit public health advocacy group, criticized the HPP grants as too low.
"The major concern I have is that hospital preparedness funding especially is insufficient for the task at hand," Jeff Levi, PhD, told CIDRAP News. "These funds have been cut by about 50% in the decade before the first domestic Ebola cases [in 2014], which meant the healthcare system can't build even a basic level of preparedness.
"Congress seems to be paying more attention to the role of public health in preparing for infectious disease and other national security threats, so hopefully that translates to consistent, sufficient funding for both programs as the FY2016 appropriations process moves forward."
Jul 6 HHS press release
Lists of grants by state
Jul 1, 2014, CIDRAP News story on last year's funding