HHS issues medical surge guidance for healthcare systems

Jan 25, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released a new planning tool to help hospitals and health systems prepare for medical surges that could result from a bioterror attack, natural disaster, or other public health emergency.

The new guidance, released earlier this month by the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), spells out eight capabilities that are part of a set of 15 that the HHS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in a broader report in March 2011 that detailed national standards for state and local public health preparedness planning.

The HHS said it released the guidance to help hospitals, health systems, and their public health partners prepare for disasters, as well as to introduce a new Hospital Preparedness Program and Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement that takes effect in July. The agreement annually funds $350 million to states, four municipalities, and eight US territories to build and strengthen their surge response capabilities.

While preparing for natural or manmade threats, trauma centers, hospitals, and health systems face a host of everyday challenges, including emergency department overcrowding, rising numbers of uninsured patients, and an aging population, the HHS said in the report.

"Regardless of the threat, an effective medical surge response begins with robust hospital-based systems and effective healthcare coalitions to facilitate preparedness planning and response at the local level," according to the report.

It said the guidance is designed to help health facilities and systems identify preparedness gaps, set priorities, and develop plans for building and sustaining their specific capabilities.

Several stakeholders were involved in developing the surge capability guidance, including other federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Federal officials also received input from health groups such as the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Association of States and Territorial Healthcare Officials (ASTHO), and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

The guidance is based on FEMA preparedness methods and aligns with the Presidential Policy Directive 8, which on Mar 30, 2011, ordered federal agencies to develop a National Preparedness Goal that defines core capabilities of a national preparedness system.

The eight medical surge capability areas detailed in the 73-page guidance documents are:

  • Healthcare system preparedness
  • Healthcare system recovery
  • Emergency operations coordination
  • Fatality management
  • Information sharing
  • Medical surge
  • Responder safety and health
  • Volunteer management

For example, the first capability—healthcare system preparedness—addresses how to identify critical healthcare assets and services, including equipment and supply sources that can be used during mass casualty response.

The guidance also includes a six-step planning model that is not intended as a prescriptive method, but rather a series of suggested activities, the HHS said.

See also:

ASPR healthcare system preparedness guidance

Apr 14, 2011, CIDRAP News story "CDC releases preparedness guidelines for states, localities"

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