Conference to focus on healthcare systems' response to disasters and overloads

Everyone has by now seen the devastation around the Indian Ocean from the tsunami and the massive destruction of New Orleans from Katrina. The damage from the ocean surges caused by the earthquake and the hurricane is still straining the resources of the countries affected. In terms of healthcare systems, surges can be an everyday occurrence.

In order to address the challenges that natural and manmade disasters pose, the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine is hosting a Consensus Conference on the "Science of Surge" on May 17, 2006, at the San Francisco Marriott in conjunction with its Annual Meeting (May 18-21). It features keynote speakers, lectures for scientific content experts, interactive facilitated small group sessions, and interactive conference attendee voting on key consensus issues.

The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, will address the entire SAEM Annual Meeting on the topic of the Medical Reserve Corps as a tool to augment surge capacity on Thursday, May 18 immediately following the Opening Reception at 6:30 PM.

Surge capacity, the ability of a hospital or healthcare system to meet extraordinary needs of the community in the event of a manmade or natural catastrophe, is an important measure of disaster preparedness. Hospitals also deal with daily surge, a concept related to disaster surge, but with different characteristics. Both of these concepts are a mainstay of emergency medicine, but the creation or maintenance of surge capacity as related to health care and public health draws upon many disciplines and resources.

While surge capacity is critical to the national healthcare safety net and public health system, its scientific underpinnings are varied and ill-defined. The conference focuses almost exclusively on defining the scientific parameters of surge capacity and avoids simple reviews of current practices.

The Chair of the Consensus Conference, Gabe Kelen MD, comments on the importance of the conference.

"Surge capacity and management of limited resources, or limited access, is one of the greatest medical/public health issues facing the nation. Although daily strains are readily evident, the need for surge capacity is paramount during a catastrophic event with large scale medical/public health effects. The need to establish the scientific underpinnings for the study of Preparedness and Response is gaining recognition and momentum.

This conference is aimed at developing the research agenda for studying one of the most important aspects of Disaster Management, i.e. surge. Importantly, scientific advances in this area have potential for great daily utility, as the health system is under great strain, with occasional major spikes even without the added burden of dealing with a catastrophic event."

Speakers and participants examine current scientific knowledge and understanding of surge and explore the linkages between disaster surge and daily surge. Attendees will develop a better definition of surge and its various components, an understanding of the current status of surge research and an appreciation for appropriate research methodologies.

Participants in this Consensus Conference will help establish a research agenda for emergency medicine for the scientific exploration of surge capacity. Apart from identifying appropriate areas of investigation, the conference will determine a plan for advocacy: i.e., means to communicate the importance of this area as a research endeavor to related disciplines, policy makers, and funding agencies. The conference will also identify potential funding sources already known to be interested in this area.

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This year's conference is supported in part by the National Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response (PACER) and the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR).


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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