Federal funding doesn't fully support hospitals facing large-scale emergencies like flu
Public health experts told lawmakers on Tuesday that our nation's hospitals don't have enough federal funding to properly handle large-scale emergencies like the current flu epidemic.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, testified before a Senate health committee hearing on Tuesday. He said hospitals as a whole are not prepared to address the more than 8,000 flu-related admissions that have been reported throughout the country as of Jan. 13.
"They are simply not equipped for those larger events, and they are living too close to the margins with just-in-time inventories to be able to surge," Inglesby told lawmakers.
Indeed, hospitals have reported having to delay elective surgeries and treating patients in outdoor tents in order to make room for flu patients.
Inglesby blamed ongoing lack of federal funding for emergency preparedness programs. In particular, he called for increased funding to the federal Hospital Preparedness Program. Hospitals use these funds to train personnel on emergencies, hire emergency preparedness coordinators, and stockpile supplies to handle a patient surge.
HPP funding has dropped by half from $515 million in 2003 to $255 million in fiscal 2017, according to an American Journal of Public Health study published last September. Funding has dropped over the past three years.
"At baseline, our healthcare delivery system is fragile, decentralized, frequently uncoordinated and regional," said Dr. Steven Krug, chair of the disaster preparedness advisory council for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Experts said a public emergency contingency fund could quickly allocate money to disasters rather than going through the process of Congress authorizing emergency funding. As recently as 2016, partisan differences over the Zika response led to a monthslong delay to pass a bill that gave state health departments money to track and treat the disease.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) thought that was a good idea. "We must be proactive, not reactive," he said.
The hearing was the second in as many weeks by the Senate health committee to discuss the nation's public health emergency preparedness. The committee is considering reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which expires in September and funds the Hospital Preparedness Program.
Recent reports suggest the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is cutting back work fighting overseas threats and will decrease the nation's global involvement in public health response efforts because of funding cuts.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.