UW News

October 23, 2001

Hospitals, Health Departments Prepare for Possible Bioterrorism

Sold-out meeting provides tools for identifying, containing, and treating biological agents.

Seattle, Tuesday, October 23–Yesterday, at a more-than-capacity meeting sponsored by Harborview Medical Center, the Washington State Hospital Association, and the Central Region Trauma Council, hospital and health department leaders continued their preparations for dealing with bioterrorism. More than 400 people attended the meeting, which was also broadcast via live feed to several locations and taped for later distribution to other hospitals and health departments statewide.

“While we haven’t had any biological attacks in Washington, we want to be sure we’re fully prepared. We want our hospitals and health departments to have the best information possible about how to identify, contain, and treat biological agents,” said Dr. Michael Copass, Medical Director, Emergency Services at Harborview and featured conference speaker. “The large number of people who participated in and watched the conference clearly indicates there is a need for this information and a desire on the part of our local hospitals and health departments to get educated.”

“We are all working together on this very serious issue,” said Leo Greenawalt, President of the Washington State Hospital Association. “Our hospitals sometimes compete with each other for business or public image. In disaster preparedness, I am proud to say that all we see is cooperation, not competition. Our hospitals and health departments work together very well on both local and state levels and will coordinate their efforts totally to ensure the public’s safety.”

Washington state is generally considered better prepared than many states for biological attacks. Emergency preparedness has been an ongoing priority for our communities for many years. Spurred on by events such as the World Trade Organization meetings, Y2K, and earthquakes, hospitals and health departments exercise regularly with other agencies responsible for public safety to achieve ever-increasing levels of readiness.

For example, hospitals and public health departments have participated in countless drills with local, national, and military partners. Harborview, the medical facility designated as the disaster center for Seattle/King County, developed a hospital capacity website for King County hospitals where hospitals list the number of beds available and the status of their emergency rooms. Normally, this website is updated on every shift; during an emergency, it is updated more frequently, which then aids in determining where patients will be transported for fastest treatment. Also, area hospitals have developed a centralized victim information telephone number so families can call one location to get information about where their loved ones are hospitalized.

Key areas of education at yesterday’s conference included:
? Guidelines for the clinical recognition of and public health management plans for potential biological agents;
? State and county resources and efforts to prepare for a disaster;
? What hospitals can do to ensure they are prepared; and
? How hospitals will respond to and communicate with one another in the event of an attack.

While Harborview, the Washington State Hospital Association, and the Washington State Department of Health are generally pleased with state and local community progress in preparing for bioterrorism, hospital and health department leaders yesterday also identified areas that still need work to ensure a swift and seamless response to any attack:

? First, hospitals and health departments are on the front line of defense against terrorism. As such, some of the new federal, state, and local anti-terrorism and disaster preparedness funding currently being considered should be allocated to hospitals and public health. Funding would be targeted for decontamination and containment equipment, training of personnel, and expanding the hospital capacity website statewide, and increasing capabilities of state laboratories to identify biological agents.

? Second, urban areas have had the advantage of more resources than rural areas to prepare for emergencies. Rural communities statewide need further resources and training to ensure they are ready for biological attacks.

? And lastly, hospitals and health departments are concerned about current understaffing. Hospitals are calling on their own leadership, local communities, and elected officials to make solving this problem a top priority.

Hospitals and local health departments plan to continue ongoing training and planning in partnership with the federal government, the Centers for Disease Control, the state Department of Health, and the military.

Source: Washington State Hospital Association
For more information, contact: Cassie Sauer, Washington State Hospital Association
206/216-2538 work, 206/714-4603 cell, cassies@wsha.org