Trends in State Public Health Preparedness

November 5, 2015

November 5, 2015 - Last week was the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Directors of Public Health Preparedness (DPHP) conference. Try saying that three times fast! It was my first time attending and a great opportunity to step back and look at some of the biggest issues and major projects being cooked up by state and federal preparedness folks. 

Frankly, the bottom line (which should come as no surprise) is that public health in general and preparedness funding more drastically, is being reduced. And what is still flowing is under more scrutiny than ever. It’s something I’m constantly thinking about lately (which makes me a lot of fun at parties), but it’s well beyond time that we start to focus on examining and providing a return on investment for the money that’s being spent. It’s something I discussed much more in a recent blog for the Hill, but it’s great to see ASTHO recognizing the need and working to make sure they are developing effective messages and coordinating them at all levels. 

Another major theme throughout the conference is that preparedness is not as focused on catastrophic events as it has in the past. The conversation is becoming wider and encapsulating smaller regional events. Local snowstorms, fires and flooding were a major part of the conversation. Again, a great shift that I think is necessary to demonstrate the value of preparedness.

One of the things I’m the most excited about is ASPR’s EmPower map which has pulled Medicare data to show down to the zip code level the location of vulnerable patients who may require additional support after an event. These are citizens that may be on oxygen or medical devices, receiving dialysis, or have other chronic health needs. This tool anonymizes the individual’s information to protect them according to HIPPA regulations, but HHS can provide more specific information to officials. Its goal is to assist them in knowing where to go before or after an event to try and protect those who need it the most. And think of all the time it can save! I can’t wait to see what great things we can do with this tool.

A surprisingly large amount of the conference was spent on the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP). HPP provides funding to encourage private sector healthcare to work together on preparedness planning and during times of stress on the system. HPP funds the majority of healthcare coalitions around the US and it’s no leap to say that the strength of these coalitions are all over the map. That’s a real challenge because the future of HPP funding is very much still in question. The federal presenters seemed to grasp the challenge and understand that we need to start asking some hard questions about coalitions in the next year. It’ll be very interesting to see if they can make the changes necessary for their continued survival in HPP.

As usual, at the end of the day it all comes down to funding and the need to start really selling preparedness. And that’s a difficult shift for many state directors to make, but it’s one they have to embrace in order to try and halt the steady erosion of our nation’s preparedness. As one attendee eloquently stated, “preparedness is rented not owned”. 

Emily Lord

Emily Lord is the Executive Director of Healthcare Ready. She provides strategic guidance and oversight to programs that build community health resilience in times of disaster or pandemic outbreaks. This includes creating partnerships with the private-sector medical supply chain, as well as public health NGOs and local, state and federal government agencies. Emily has led Healthcare Ready through multiple natural disasters including Hurricane Sandy.