In the healthcare industry, it’s not enough to be prepared for everyday emergencies like accidents and illness. Today’s service providers must be ready to respond to situations, such as natural disasters and pandemics, that can easily exceed the day-to-day capacity and capability of established health and emergency response systems. This is where the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and its 2017-2022 Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities guidance comes into play.

The guidance fully describes “what the health care delivery system, including health care coalitions (HCCs), hospitals, and emergency medical services (EMS), have to do to effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies that impact the public’s health.” In other words, it represents the “ideal state of readiness” in the United States. The guidance includes four key capabilities as explained below:

Capability #1 – Foundation for Health Care and Medical Readiness. The goal is that every community’s health care organization(s) and other stakeholders, coordinated through a sustainable HCC, have strong relationships; identify hazards and risks; and prioritize and address gaps through planning, training, exercising and managing resources.

Capability #2 – Health Care and Medical Response Coordination. The goal is for health care organizations, the HCC, their jurisdiction(s), and the Emergency Support Function-8 (ESF-8) lead agency to plan and collaborate for the sharing and analysis of information; manage and share resources; and coordinate strategies to deliver medical care to all populations during emergencies and planned events.

Capability #3 – Continuity of Health Care Service Delivery. The goal is for health care organizations, with support from the HCC and the ESF-8 lead agency, to provide uninterrupted, optimal medical care to all populations in the face of damaged or disabled health care infrastructure. This will require health care workers to be well-trained, well-educated, and well-equipped to care for patients during emergencies so that operations can return to normal (or even be improved) as expeditiously as possible.

Capability #4 – Medical Surge. As its goal, health care organizations, including hospitals, EMS, and out-of-hospital providers, will deliver timely and efficient care to their patients even when the demand for health care services exceeds available supply. The HCC, in collaboration with the ESF-8 lead agency, will coordinate information and available resources for its members to maintain conventional surge response. When an emergency overwhelms the HCC’s collective resources, the HCC will support the healthcare delivery system’s transition to contingency and crisis surge, and promote a timely return to conventional standards of care as soon as possible.

Guidance Benefits

It is believed that healthcare organizations, HCCs, jurisdictions and other stakeholders that develop the four capabilities outlined in the 2017-2022 Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities document will experience many benefits. Among them, they will:

  • Help patients receive the care they need at the right place, at the right time, and with the right resources during emergencies.
  • Decrease death, injuries and illnesses resulting from emergencies.
  • Promote health care delivery system resilience in the aftermath of emergencies.

While these four capabilities and their goals may seem lofty, they are clearly not unattainable. They fully align with the guidance documented in the National Response Framework (NRF), the National Preparedness Goal, and the National Health Security Strategy, which have been in place for quite some time. Plus, ASPR leads the country in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the adverse health effects of emergencies and disasters. By following their lead and their recommendations, and leaning on those all-important HCCs, the nation may actually reach (or even exceed) the “ideal state of readiness.” It’s just a matter of communication, collaboration, and of course, planning.

BOLDplanning works with health care organizations and jurisdictions across the country to develop comprehensive and effective Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans that genuinely work today and tomorrow.