Experts say that a pandemic flu outbreak will hit the United States—a pandemic large enough to stretch our healthcare resources to the breaking point and overwhelm hospitals.
“They say it’s not if, but when,” says James C. Pile, MD, FACP, Division of Hospital Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio, an infectious diseases specialist with a longstanding interest in bioterrorism/pandemic preparedness, and former editor of The Hospitalist.
Your Government at Work
The federal government is taking a lead role in preparing for this outbreak or outbreaks. President George W. Bush issued a National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza in November 2005, which focuses on measures to slow or stop the spread of a pandemic flu and on “sustaining infrastructure and mitigating impact to the economy and the functioning of society.”
That strategy charges the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with leading federal pandemic preparedness. The HHS is working with state and local agencies on planning and has made $600 million available for state and local preparedness efforts, including the exercising of pandemic plans across communities and at all levels of government.
Total congressional funding for pandemic flu preparedness, says Dr. Pile, is “somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion dollars.”
A Working Plan
In May 2006, President Bush released the Implementation Plan for the National Strategy, which stipulates more than 300 actions for federal departments and agencies and sets clear expectations for state and local governments. It also provides guidance for all federal departments and agencies on the development of their own plans.
The latest update on the Implementation Plan (released in December 2006) lists dozens of action items, including:
- The Department of Homeland Security will provide emergency response element training (e.g., incident management, triage, security, and communications) and provide assistance, when requested, to state, local, and public health entities within six months.
- HHS will work with state and local governments to develop protocols for the distribution of critical medical materials such as ventilators in times of medical emergency, also within six months.
- HHS will prepare guidance for local Medical Reserve Corps coordinators describing the role of the Corps during a pandemic. The Medical Reserve Corps comprises teams of local volunteer medical and public health professionals who can contribute their skills and expertise during times of need.