Unsettling news on disaster preparedness
Experts say the country is still not as prepared for disaster as it should be 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. They say the country’s healthcare system has made significant strides in its preparedness for hurricanes, acts of terror and other disasters, but significant gaps remain.
“Are we better off? Undoubtedly. Are we where we need to be? Not even close,” says Donald Donahue, until recently director of the health policy and preparedness program at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Arlington, Va. The country has yet to be tested in needing to care for a large number of patients in a short amount of time, and the system would likely fail that test, Donahue says. Federal funding for public-health preparedness and response capability in fiscal 2011 decreases by $102.3 million, or 11%, to $824.4 million as part of the spending plan for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthcare providers work to deal with the aftereffects of the May 22 tornado in Joplin, Mo., which includes the death of about 160 and the destruction of St. John’s Regional Medical Center. Executives for St. John’s and its parent, Mercy, Chesterfield, Mo., vow to rebuild, and set up operations in temporary facilities. Competitor Freeman Health System announces expansion plans in response to an influx of patients later in the summer.
Hurricane Irene causes havoc and unexpected financial costs for hospitals along the Eastern Seaboard in August. The storm, which claims dozens of lives and devastates some communities, makes landfall Aug. 27 in North Carolina as a hurricane and reaches New York City the next day as a tropical storm. Many hospitals empty out before the storm, which largely spares New York City. Irene continues north to Massachusetts and Vermont, which experiences heavy flooding that eventually closes a mental hospital, Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury.