There were breakout sessions that focused independently on the needs of vulnerable populations (pediatrics, racial minorities, low SES populations, disabled, etc.) and the lack of preparedness planning at the local level for those groups. Conversation on this topic was subsequently fractured between several talks – Fundamentals of Regional Hospital Planning for Pediatric Disasters, Integrating Individuals Experiencing Homelessness into Disasters Response, and The Role of Social Work in Emergency Preparedness with Minority Communities. The themes throughout the sessions were similar, but the fragmented conversations held on this larger topic made it clear to me that there is a need to have a broader conversation about vulnerable populations (including how to identify them in a community). I was heartened to see that some of the conversations were led by individuals who are representatives of those populations. Though not all of the conversations were led by these voices, I do believe that we’re at least moving in the right direction. Especially in conversations about community needs, we need to focus on representation. This is an issue about which I’m very passionate so I’m glad to see progress in this space.
The plenary sessions were well attended, and most speakers spoke at a high level about the need for better coordination and a desire to bolster the support that coalitions receive on the ground, through training and information sharing innovations. HHS/ASPR (Dr. Lurie) addressed several topical regulations and new resources, including CMS Proposed Rule on Emergency Preparedness and TRACIE. (Initial impression – TRACIE will be well-received as a local resource if there is no redundancy.)
I had the opportunity to moderate the panel discussion on “Expanding Partnerships: NGOs in Healthcare Coalition Planning, Response & Recovery” on behalf of Healthcare Ready. This discussion primarily featured international NGOs discussing their domestic efforts, such as training local hospital workers on best practices from the field to prevent Ebola viral disease transmission. What I found most rewarding about the experience was observing participants propose and adopt actionable solutions in real time. The crowd seemed skeptical, at first, about the value of international NGOs in domestic healthcare preparedness. However, once speakers addressed the value of lessons learned abroad being used domestically and explained the healthcare worker cadre that these organizations can mobilize, attendees were far more interested in these organizations. One attendee commented that the challenge is often finding reputable non-profit organizations with which to work, and asked if NGOs could work to streamline the process for coalitions. As a result, the NGOs in attendance are currently working on a solution to improve coordination to better support the healthcare coalitions.
The conference was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the healthcare preparedness community’s current priorities. Based on the themes presented, I would summarize the main priorities to include: a concerted effort to more comprehensively include vulnerable populations in plans and policies, make a stronger economic case for preparedness, and analyze the threats presented by climate change. I’m excited that the 2016 conference is going to be held in Washington, DC, and eager to start moving forward on ideas and solutions that came out of the conference.