Preparation for Public Health Emergencies

After reviewing the response to the Ebola outbreak, an independent panel of public health experts believes the World Health Organization (WHO) “does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response,” according to the “Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel.” In light of that statement, what should authorities do to respond better to the next public health crisis?

Preparing for a Public Health Emergency

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health care facilities should cultivate strong relationships with the institutions they may need to call on in a crisis, including emergency management agencies and emergency medical services. Health care providers should also analyze their environment. Hazard vulnerability and risk assessments may help find areas of weakness, while capacity assessments of the local public health system may help highlight any limitations the team may face. Once weaknesses are identified, authorities can take measures to improve matters before a crisis hits. Emergency guidelines should also be developed and communicated to all levels of staff, so that all workers are aware of the necessary actions they should take during a crisis.

Handling a Health Care Crisis

Preparation for Public Health Emergencies_Image via Flickr by UNMEER Image via Flickr by UNMEER The CDC recommends following its “Public Health Emergency Response Guide for State, Local, and Tribal Public Health Directors” in the first 24 hours of a public health crisis, together with a facility’s own emergency operations plans and procedures. According to the CDC document, the first step in handling a crisis is to calmly assess the situation. Include your facility’s role in handling the situation, the way it’s impacting your infrastructure, and the way it’s impacting patients and the wider community. Based on your assessment of the crisis, an action plan can be developed, highlighting clear, achievable, and measurable goals. Your team’s progress through the crisis should then be monitored to make sure your staff members meet those goals. According to the CDC document, key personnel need to be informed. These individuals may vary according to the emergency, but may include your health care facility’s administrators and leaders, environmental health specialists, and emergency response coordinators. Timely, adequate, and appropriate communication of the crisis to the public is key. The Ebola Interim Assessment Panel commented that WHO should not have waited until more than 1,000 people lost their lives to Ebola before declaring a public health emergency. The report criticized WHO’s Director General Margaret Chan for her slow response and lack of “independent and courageous decision making,” failings that she has publicly admitted to since the incident, according to Jef Akst of The Scientist.

Necessary Training

Training in emergency management is important for all health care workers. Every member of a health care team must know how to respond appropriately to a crisis. Certification in safety and health practices can be an important part of this response. During high-pressure incidents, members of a team naturally look to health care leaders for advice and direction. Seminars in public health management and leadership can be found in health care courses and graduate degree programs, including a Master of Public Health (MPH) program. While the recent assessment of WHO is troubling, health care groups can learn from this organization’s response to the Ebola health crisis to improve their own responses to public health emergencies.   Resources Linked to in the Article: http://emergency.cdc.gov/planning/pdf/cdcresponseguide.pdf  http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/43485/title/Report–WHO-Unfit-for-Public-Health-Emergency   Resources Consulted for the Article: http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/ebola/report-by-panel.pdf?ua=1 http://emergency.cdc.gov/planning/pdf/cdcresponseguide.pdf