Public health agencies serve valuable roles and fill operational gaps that only they can perform. Planning and training within and between agencies are necessary for public health services to transition from daily operations to emergency response to a widespread pandemic, environmental hazard, or other critical public health threat.
In December 2014, an unknown patient zero visited Disneyland in California. Whether that person knew that he or she was carrying a highly contagious infectious disease is not as important as the speed in which the disease spread and the reason behind it. There is a correlation between the resurgence of measles and vaccination practices in modern families.
As the old saying goes, there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics." The reality of how statistical data is gathered, compared, and used can make the decision-making process more difficult. In emergency medical services, setting the bar based on available statistics affects both lives and budgets, so decisions must be made wisely.
When the deadly Ebola virus travelled into the United States, many healthcare workers were not adequately prepared to manage the care, treatment, and transport of such patients. As a result, hospitals and other healthcare facilities now are scrambling to educate their personnel on this and other deadly biothreats before the next incident occurs.
With the development of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Healthcare Preparedness Capabilities: National Guidance for Healthcare System Preparedness, local health departments across the country have now begun to partner with healthcare coalitions and healthcare organizations on emergency preparedness planning, training, and exercises.
Healthcare planning begins with partnerships that can break down walls to allow healthcare providers and their public health and emergency management partners to work together. The National Healthcare Coalition Preparedness Conference brought together many of these stakeholders to promote strategies for regional healthcare readiness through healthcare coalitions.
The few Ebola cases that surfaced in the United States revealed gaps in the public health plans for such illnesses. Although these cases enhanced education to the public and engaged congressional interest, these efforts must continue to be sustained for future threats. In addition, some critical issues, such as quarantine procedures, remain unresolved.
As hospitals fill with patients and the cost of medical care rises, the use of community paramedicine also may increase. To fill the gap between routine doctor visits and emergency transport to hospitals, communities have the opportunity to expand the use of highly trained paramedics to better serve their populations' urgent-care needs.
Staying "connected" has become a common way of life, but sometimes natural or manmade forces can sever these connections. During life-saving operations, inaction is not an option. Emergency medical services agencies need to have a back-up plan when everyday technology fails and personnel must implement "old-school" techniques.
The first U.S. case of Ebola has been confirmed in Texas, so what once was considered a "foreign" disease is now on domestic soil. The key question is, "Are U.S. healthcare workers prepared?" Although it takes time, it is never too late to build awareness, provide protection, and implement procedures.