Given recent events, many health care providers (as well as communities) are asking one very important question: “Are we as prepared as we could, or should, be for a large-scale emergency or natural disaster?” And, they’re doing so justifiably. The threat of Ebola continues to loom and vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio are making strong comebacks. There are also more occurrences of extreme weather, including widespread flooding, deadly tornadoes, dangerous wildfires, and massive hurricanes. Further, there’s always the risk of nuclear incidents, dam failures, acts of terrorism, and other human-caused catastrophes.

Any of these situations has the potential to overwhelm even the largest, best-equipped, and well-staffed health care facility. Fortunately, today’s health care coalitions, or HCCs, are serving as true force multipliers by helping organizations (and ultimately, entire communities) fill critical gaps in emergency preparedness.

HCCs bring groups of health care and response organizations together to plan for, and respond to, emergencies and disasters in a defined geographic location. Members typically include hospitals, local health departments, emergency management organizations, and emergency medical services, among others. According to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), today’s national HCC participation rates are as follows:

– 85% of all U.S. hospitals

– 82% of local health departments

– 56% of emergency management organizations

– 22% of EMS providers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now estimates there are more than 31,000 HCC members, or 476 HCCs, nationwide.  But, there could, and should, be even more. This is especially true given there was federal funding ($265 million) available to support such preparedness efforts in FY 2018-2019 alone.

The Hospital Preparedness Program

ASPR continually encourages the development and sustainment of HCCs through its Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP). The program provides leadership and funding through grants and cooperative agreements to states, territories, and eligible municipalities to improve the capacity of the health care system in response to medical surge events. In fact, HPP is the only source of federal funding that supports regional health care system preparedness.

Just since the program’s inception in 2002, HPP awardees have used these all-important funds—equating to $5.9 billion—to:  

  • Purchase tangible resources like ventilators, mobile medical units, and pharmaceutical caches;
  • Formalize support for regional healthcare coalitions; and,
  • Emphasize the role of HCCs as response entities by optimizing membership and expanding geographic coverage.

Consequently, ASPR is currently reporting that 96% of all HCCs feel that HPP support has improved their ability to decrease morbidity and mortality during disasters. And, that’s no small accomplishment, especially given the increase in the nation’s population and its rapidly growing health and safety concerns. Unfortunately, however, many HCCs are not well developed, and reductions in federal funding threaten the progress that has been made.

Resources and guidelines for strengthening your HCC’s ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies, crises, and natural disasters is available through the HPP’s 2017–2022 Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities and 2017–2022 Hospital Preparedness Program Performance Measures Implementation Guidance.

Assistance with emergency preparedness planning is also available from Tennessee-based BOLDplanning. With 10,000+ emergency, continuity and mitigation plans under its belt, the company is known to offer expert consultative services (particularly as it relates to the health care community) and an online planning platform that is second to none. Email or call 615.469.5558 to learn more now.