A new Center for Health Security Project Team report said the U.S. healthcare system is not prepared for a large-scale incident or catastrophic disease.
Other segments of society that support or interact with healthcare are also not sufficiently prepared for disasters.
To prepare for future events, the study authors suggested hospitals form networks and coalitions with other facilities in their region.
Health systems, hospitals and providers have transitioned to the new normal of natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, mass shooting events and health outbreaks like the flu. These incidents have meant hospitals need to figure out ways to both prepare for and respond to disasters and health crises.
The report, which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded, studied U.S. disaster healthcare over two years. The researchers looked into possible changes, innovations and new efforts to improve the healthcare system’s and nation’s response to major disasters.
The report found the nation is well prepared for common, smaller-scale disasters through hospital preparedness, especially by creating healthcare coalitions (HCCs). However, the nation’s needs aren't met when it comes to larger-scale disasters and complex disasters.
They included suggestions to respond to four categories: small-scale mass injury/illness events, large-scale natural disasters, complex mass casualty events and catastrophic health events.
The recommendations include:
- Establish a network of Disaster Resource Hospitals;
- Start an initiative to promote a “culture of resilience” for grassroots and community-based organizations;
- Provide more resources for the Hospital Preparedness Program;
- Spark more healthcare coalitions; and
- Create a dedicated Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to focus on planning for catastrophic health events.
“If these changes were implemented, they would help make the health sector more resilient and the country could become far stronger in its ability to manage the mass medical care needs for a range of disasters,” the authors said.
The report provided a conceptual model of a future disaster healthcare system that would feature “a resilient, tiered, regionalized and adaptive system of preparedness and response that can deal as effectively as possible with all four types of disasters."
In their proposal for Disaster Resource Hospitals, the study authors suggested large academic medical centers with comprehensive services would serve as referral hubs for most highly specialized medical care. These facilities often provide the most advanced pediatric and adult critical care, as well as trauma and burn units. They also can provide care for the most complicated disaster injuries and illnesses, including radiation injuries and infectious diseases. In the plan, those facilities would work with HCCs and other local resources.
The report also sees opportunities for telemedicine and other technology to provide real-time, remote clinical expertise. The centers could offer education and training to local partners and coordinate exercises. These facilities would become models for other hospitals.
“As part of their innovation research, they could promote a culture of resilience by exploring ways for the formal healthcare system to interact more closely with civil society and community-based organizations around disasters,” they wrote.