A report from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finds that more than 75% of hospitals participating in the National Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) met 90% or more of all program measures for all-hazards preparedness in 2009. The report, titled From Hospitals to Healthcare Coalitions: Transforming Health Preparedness and Response in Our Communities, identifies the advances states have made in preparing hospitals for all types of disasters and discusses the next steps the program will take to boost community resilience.

All states, eight US territories, and four large metropolitan areas participate in the cooperative agreement grant program, which provides federal funds, technical assistance, and guidelines for hospital preparedness. Of the more than 6,300 hospitals across the nation, more than 85% take advantage of the program.

The report finds that hospitals meeting preparedness performance measures have dedicated redundant, interoperable systems in place to communicate between hospitals, public health agencies, and emergency managers. These hospitals can report the number of available beds to a state, territory, or city emergency operations center within 60 minutes of a request during a disaster.

These hospitals also have plans to handle a surge in demand for hospital services during a disaster, as well as plans for hospital evacuation, sheltering patients and staff in place during a disaster, and to respond to mass fatalities.

Hospitals meeting program measures demonstrate their response capacity during emergency exercises, including statewide or regional exercises, or actual incidents. The hospitals develop improvement plans based on after-action reports from these events. During a disaster, they use the incident command system, and have adopted the National Incident Management System through the hospital organization. These systems standardize response terminology and command-and-control structure across the emergency response.

To meet some of these performance measures and enhance the response capability, states, territories, cities, and participating hospitals also use HPP funding to purchase emergency equipment, such as mobile medical units to bring medical care to survivors during disaster response and back-up generators to keep participating hospitals running when power is otherwise unavailable.

The report suggests that, as an increasing number of hospitals meet performance measures program, participants also focus on building coalitions within communities so that hospitals, government agencies, nongovernment organizations, businesses, and community residents work as a team to prepare for and respond to disasters. The report recommends that these coalitions involve all populations within communities, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who are vulnerable in other ways.

In July 2010, states, territories, and large metropolitan areas received $390.5 million in HPP grants to help hospitals and other health care organizations strengthen the medical surge capability across the nation. HPP funding focuses on enhancing planning, increasing integration between public and private sector medical planning and assets, and improving infrastructure.

HHS established the program in 2002 as the National Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program to enhance hospitals’ ability to respond to a biological attack by increasing stockpiles of equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals that would not have been purchased by financially strained institutions with the program. Since that time, the program evolved to support preparedness for all hazards.

Source: US Department of Health and Human Services