Public Health Emergency - Leading a Nation Prepared
In May 2015, en route from Washington DC to NYC, an Amtrak train carrying 238 passengers derailed.
Over 200 were injured and eight killed. The large volume of patients highlighted the need for a coordinated and regional approach to preparedness. The Amtrak derailment caused a ripple of shock throughout the country, especially considering over 86,000 passengers rely on Amtrak every day.
Fortunately, the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DoH), and the regional health care coalition (HCC) had long been working together to prepare local health care systems for disasters that could cause a surge in patients. HPP-funded systems helped distribute notifications of emergency room capacity; facilitated communication; enhanced patient tracking and triaging to help people get the care that they needed. Because these systems were in place before the train derailed, they were ready to protect health and save lives when seconds counted.
Martin Raniowski, Deputy Secretary for Health Planning and Assessment for the Pennsylvania Department of Health stated, “The expedient and effective response to this terrible tragedy shows that the system works, thanks largely to the funding provided by the Hospital Preparedness Program”.
Even as emergency crews were still on the ground searching for survivors and victims, local health care facilities, EMS, and emergency management agencies, all members of HPP-supported HCCs, were already in action, working together to facilitate a swift, coordinated response. HCCs are an integral part of HPP. They incentivize diverse and often competitive health care organizations with differing priorities and objectives to work together. The HCC members in Pennsylvania collaborated to ensure that each member of their coalition had the necessary medical equipment and supplies, real-time information, communication systems, and trained health care personnel to respond to public health emergencies, including large scale accidents like the Amtrak train derailment.
Mark Ross, emergency coordinator on the ground during the Amtrak derailment and an HCC leader in Pennsylvania, praised HPP for their regional focus on preparedness and emphasis on the vital systems that help operationalize HCCs. “Through HPP funding, our HCC created an effective incident management structure that was critical to our health care system response to the Amtrak train derailment,” Mr. Ross said. “Within a half hour window, HPP-funded systems were able to send out notifications of emergency room capacity to HCC members a full 30 minutes prior to the official city alerts. This enhanced information sharing provided responders real-time communications on vital resources throughout the region.” HCC members immediately activated another HPP-funded response platform to track and triage patients, facilitating the proper distribution of patients preventing any single hospital from being overburdened.
The operational response of HCC members, along with their systems and training, allowed for an effective response within an organized incident command structure, saving lives, improving care, and increasing accountability.
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