February 20, 2013

Working Together on Emergency Response

by Brett H. Spielberg

In response to Superstorm Sandy, Edward Gabriel, principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said that teams coordinated with his department and the Department of Defense to continue trekking into severely damaged areas, going door to door writing prescriptions to ensure individuals had their vital medications. It provided a form of solace in a dire time.

“There’s a point in life when you’re old enough to try to make a difference,” Mr. Gabriel said on February 12, during the keynote speech of the Center for Health Innovation’s Inaugural Symposium: “Assuring the Continuum of Care in Emergency Situations.”

While stories of disaster responses are becoming all too familiar, the symposium tackled serious issues pertaining to the recent experiences of Sandy, the nor’easter just a week later and the winter storm—popularly named Nemo—that pummeled the Northeast in February.

“This symposium was a perfect example of the medical and emergency management communities coming together to discuss how they can work together to better help their patients during an emergency,” said Meghan McPherson, CHI coordinator.

Mr. Gabriel, who was among many notable symposium speakers, also detailed his experiences as a New York City Fire Department paramedic and a global crisis and business continuity manager for The Walt Disney Company and his work with the federal government. HHS leads the country in preparing for, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of emergencies and disasters by supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening our health and response systems and enhancing national health security.

“We have to manage the development of appropriate treatment, get it packaged and get it into the hands of communities,” Mr. Gabriel said. “Through a combination of policy, science and response, we have to innovate and change response from months or years into weeks or days.”

Advances that he spoke of varied from a portable flu diagnostic device that takes 30 minutes as opposed to three days, next-generation portable ventilators that can run for 36 hours on battery power and a more durable blood supply in the form of spray-dried plasma that can be efficiently stored for a mammoth shelf life.

The symposium also featured presentations from experts and innovators in healthcare, as well as a panel on the continuum of care for mental health patients—during which results from the CHI Poll that comprehensively addressed how mental health providers indicated that they are much less prepared for emergencies—and a panel on healthcare informatics in times of disaster.

“Through new approaches, by soliciting feedback and by constantly making improvements, the feds are your partners,” Mr. Gabriel said. “When an event occurs, you’re the ones that are going to be there, but together with the private sector and educational institutions, we’re all working together.”

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