Johns Hopkins Report Finds U.S. Healthcare 'Poorly Prepared' for Large-Scale Emergencies

Hospital Safety Insider, March 1, 2018

The researchers advise the healthcare industry to empower existing coalitions 'to connect community resilience efforts with a network of hospitals equipped to handle disasters.'

This story was originally published by HCPro's Hospital Safety Insider, March 1, 2018.

The U.S. has been rocked in recent months by major emergencies, from the flooding in Houston, the hurricanes that ripped through Puerto Rico, and the mass shootings in Las Vegas last fall and a high school in Parkland, Florida just last month.

Those tragedies should have healthcare organizations across the country asking, "Would we be prepared to handle a similar crush of patients if disaster struck here?"

report published last week by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security found that, while U.S. healthcare organizations are "reasonably well prepared for relatively small" events such as tornadoes and local disease outbreaks, they are less ready to respond to large-scale ones such as hurricanes and mass-casualty shootings and bombings.

The Johns Hopkins researchers have also concluded that organizations are "poorly prepared" for catastrophic health events such as a severe pandemic (which some experts are bracing us for) and large-scale bioterrorism.

In a press release announcing the report, the researchers argued the healthcare industry "would be far better positioned to manage medical care needs during emergencies of any scale by empowering existing healthcare coalitions to connect community resilience efforts with a network of hospitals equipped to handle disasters."

In that press release, lead author Eric Toner, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said: "We wondered what an optimal system would look like and how we would get there. Change is needed, but the change should be evolutionary, not revolutionary. We need to build on the resources we already have."

Toner's team looked for preparedness gaps in four distinct categories of emergencies and, upon finding them, particularly in the response to large-scale events, theorized that they "exist due to different operational challenges and resource needs."

The authors gave the healthcare industry four recommendations to try to close those gaps:

  1. Build "a culture of resilience."
  2. Create a "network of disaster centers of excellence."
  3. Increase the support for and encourage collaboration with healthcare coalitions.
  4. Designate a "federal coordinator for catastrophic health event preparedness."

“It is now widely recognized that resilience of communities and systems should be the goal rather than just preparedness,” Toner and the study's other authors wrote in the report. “Resilient communities seek to resist the impact of disasters, recover promptly to normal operational capacity, and learn how better to withstand future events.”

Emergency preparedness for natural disasters and mass-casualty events like bombings and shootings is a topic we often address in our HCPro safety newsletters, such as thisthis, and this. But this report suggests healthcare organizations could benefit from more guidance on the topic, so look for that from us in the coming months.

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