Lawmakers need to provide sustained resources that would allow academic health centers to effectively respond to Ebola, said leaders from the academic medical community Monday. They also advocated preparedness for future infectious disease threats.
“The challenge is going to be, in this budget environment, do you want to put the resources forward,” said Dr. John Prescott, chief academic officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “We have seen the steady erosion of support for things like hospital preparedness over the last several years and I think there is a great potential for us to be lulled into complacency.”
Estimates have indicated the total cost associated with treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian international who was the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S., cost Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas about $500,000. Gerard Anderson, a health policy professor at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, was quoted last month estimating the costs associated with Duncan's care to be between $18,000 and $24,000 a day.
“I would be fooling you if I didn't tell you that it is expensive and is yet unreimbursed,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, speaking about the cost of successfully treating two Ebola patients. “This is a true test of the leadership of academic medicine in America at a critical time.”
Issues involving costs, community engagement and personnel safety when providing care for an Ebola patient were some of leading topics at a Monday session during the AAMC's annual meeting in Chicago.
Most of the questions from audience members centered on the health costs associated with treating an Ebola patient, and whether President Barack Obama's recent request for $6.2 billion to fight Ebola in the U.S. and West Africa was likely to be approved by Congress.
Last week, the AAMC along with more than 120 medical schools and teaching hospitals, sent a letter (PDF) to Obama administration Ebola czar Ron Klain offering to work with state and federal officials to ensure institutions and healthcare workers were trained and prepared to treat Ebola patients.
“The federal and state governments must help these centers secure adequate reimbursement from private and public payers for potentially costly and lengthy hospitalizations,” wrote AAMC President Dr. Darrell Kirch. “These investments will require a steady, reliable, and long-term financial commitment to ensure continued support for readiness activities even as threats appear to diminish.
Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, predicted Ebola vaccines being developed by the National Institutes of Health would be ready for human trials in West Africa by the end of December.
She called on U.S. healthcare professionals to provide more help toward the relief effort in West Africa, where more than 13,000 have been infected with Ebola and more than 4,800 deaths have been reported as of Nov. 2.
“From the federal perspective, first and foremost we have to keep in kind that in order to keep America safe we have to continue to fight this epidemic in Africa,” Lurie said.
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