Are the nation’s hospitals ready for disaster?

Emergency Management Alert, July 7, 2009

Experts are worrying that long emergency room wait times and lack of local disaster planning partnerships nationwide indicate that the U.S. is not ready for major disasters, reports

Emergency room wait times can be a precursor to understanding how well hospitals will manage during a disaster—the average wait time in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina was about 12 hours.

According to Rear Admiral George Worthington, former commander of Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego and Steven Phillips, MD, a cardiac surgeon who leads the Special Information Services directorate at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), including the Disaster Management Research Center (DIMRC), there are proven initiatives hospitals and government can implement to avoid major problems during a disaster. They both point to the Bethesda Hospitals' Emergency Preparedness Partnership (BHEPP) in Maryland. The partnership includes Suburban Hospital, the National Naval Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, and the NLM—the first three of which are hospitals.

The partners of BHEPP are physically close, and the agreement includes sharing hospital beds, medical equipments, staff, and communication systems. The experts also suggest that hospitals in large cities form partnerships of two, three or four to keep things manageable.

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