Finnegan’s Flake: Improving Policy to Support Preparedness

January 23, 2016

January 23, 2016 - In “The Dead,” the 1914 short story masterpiece by the great Irish writer James Joyce, snow serves as a symbol of emotional paralysis. Looking out from Healthcare Ready’s virtual operations center, you could be forgiven for thinking that the snow brought by Winter Storm Jonas has exerted the same thrall. And yet, I learned from speaking with Healthcare Ready’s private sector partners yesterday that it is precisely the opposite. All over the country, the private sector has put into effect plans for healthcare supply during this massive weather event: as one of our partners at Smith Drug put it yesterday with admirable fortitude, “If the stores are open, we’ll be delivering.”

And stores are doing their part to ensure that patients have access to medications and other critical healthcare: we were contacted yesterday by a particularly happy CVS customer who rhapsodized about the automated call she received in advance of the storm reminding her to have enough medication.

All over the region, first responders are continuing to fight whiteout conditions. And it’s encouraging to see so many public and private sector entities creating (and using) emergency plans. But how can the policy framework and resource availability be improved to help both the public and private sectors support the equalization of need and supply during a disruptive event such as the current snowfall?

Patients who have to move to a shelter due to power loss may not have their wallets, or access to their medical records. Having your prescription transferred or refilled can be tough if the doctor’s office is closed because the staff can’t gain access to a restricted area. If a provider of dialysis or nutrition support hasn’t received their supply delivery, or if swelling from your oral infection is making it intermittently difficult to breathe, you can try an emergency room and wait to be seen alongside all the other patients or victims of the disaster in what may be an overstressed hospital system.

Healthcare providers serve as a hub for communities, and can play a vital role in preparedness, resilience, and recovery. Medical and pharmaceutical staff serve as a trusted resource for advice on medication effects and dosages. Many community health centers can offer mental health services in times of critical stress. Pharmacies are frequently the first port of call during a disruptive event, selling food, hygiene supplies, and other basic requirements in addition to pharmaceuticals. All have a critically important role to play in preparedness and recovery, but one that is too frequently overlooked. Fostering systemic flexibility—whether on mobile texting regulations, emergency use authorizations, or the role of pharmacists as providers—is the key.

A meaningful discussion of preparedness must include all types of healthcare from primary care to pharmacy and dentistry, private alongside public. Right now, many of these groups are simply not at the table. We need to make healthcare more accessible and more effective by focusing not only on strengthening day-to-day operations, but also on creating a policy environment that sustains resiliency throughout the healthcare system. Resilience starts here. Not from disaster manuals on a dusty shelf, but with well-established routines with sufficient flexibility to ensure continuity of care, relationships that are developed well before disasters, robust access and restoration protocols for the private sector. We are Healthcare Ready. Are you?

Kate Smyth-Haskins

Kate Smyth-Haskins serves as Healthcare Ready's Director of Development. She has worked throughout the past decade at some of the world’s most prominent policy organizations, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Hudson Institute. She most recently held the post of V.P. for Development at the Council for a Strong America. Kate received an M.A in Security Studies from Georgetown University and also holds an M.A. in the history of international relations and a B.A in History and Greek and Roman Civilizations from University College Dublin. She is certified in human resource management by the Society for Human Resource Management and George Mason University. Katherine lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son and is a proud dual citizen of the United States and the Republic of Ireland.