|PAHO: "Hospitals Should Stand Up to Disasters"|
Washington, April 7, 2009 (PAHO) - Hospitals and other health facilities should be built to withstand the impact of natural disasters and should continue providing essential health services during and after emergencies, public health experts said today during a celebration of World Health Day at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
1. Assess the safety of hospitals
2. Protect and train health workers for emergencies
3. Plan for emergency response
4. Design and build resilient hospitals
5. Adopt national policies and programmes for safe hospitals
6. Protect equipment, medicines, and supplies.
PAHO has developed a Hospital Safety Index that is being used by a number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to assess the level of safety of their hospitals and health facilities, and to determine what steps are needed to improve their safety. Preliminary results indicate that nonstructural elements-architectural features and equipment, for example-contribute more to vulnerability than structural factors.
One of the most important lessons from Katrina was that generators and other critical utilities should not be located on the lower floors of health facilities, where they are most vulnerable to floodwaters, noted Milagros Kennett, staff architect of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Building Science Branch.
She added that by the end of this decade, the United States will need to spend some $20 billion per year to replace, upgrade, or rebuild hospitals and health facilities.
Training of health workers is also a critical part of hospital preparedness, said Dr. Ruth Berggren, director of the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center. Berggren was a doctor on duty at Charity Hospital when Katrina struck in 2005 and had to care for patients for six days without electric power before being evacuated. Many doctors and other staff failed to report for duty before the hurricane, making the work of those who did much more difficult, according to Berggren. She said that personal preparedness training for health workers, including training in professional ethics, should be a central part of overall hospital preparedness.
Public-private collaboration in disaster preparedness is also critical, said Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of Scripps Health, which operates five acute-care hospital centers in California. "Hospitals need to be part of local preparedness plans. We have to collaborate with local, state, and federal agencies, and for that to happen, we need to plan and practice in advance."
Participants said that in addition to providing vital health services, hospitals have an important symbolic function, which is especially important for community recovery following disasters.
"Hospitals are a critical part of a community's resilience," said Rear Admiral W. Craig Vanderwagen, U.S. assistant secretary for preparedness and response. "These facilities' ability to remain standing becomes central to a community's sense of its own ability to recover."
World Health Day is celebrated every April 7 to commemorate the founding of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948.
PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Links of Interest:
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization