Hospital disaster preparedness in Los Angeles County

Hospitals equipped, but not fully integrating planning

Torrance, CA (October 16, 2006) - In an article in November's edition of the journal Academic Emergency Medicine and now available on-line at http://www.aemj.org/cgi/content/abstract/j.aem.2006.05.007v1, researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed) conclude that among hospitals in Los Angeles County, disaster preparedness appears to be limited by a failure to fully integrate interagency training and planning along with a severely limited surge capacity. Surge capacity is a health care system's ability to rapidly expand beyond normal services to meet the increased demand for medical care in the event of a large-scale disaster.

According to the lead author, Amy H. Kaji, MD, MPH, LA BioMed investigator and emergency department physician at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, "Because hospitals do not function in isolation during a disaster, it is essential for emergency medical services (EMS) and hospital disaster plans to be integrated into the community disaster plan. Yet, very few hospitals have emphasized the importance of having a realistic plan and very few hospital planners have actually experienced a disaster."

The study was a descriptive, cross-sectional survey of forty-five 9-1-1 receiving hospitals in Los Angeles County. The researchers evaluated ten areas of hospital disaster preparedness, including plan structure, medical supplies, involvement of law enforcement and surge capacity. Among their findings was that although 96% of hospitals conducted multiagency drills, only 16% actually involved other agencies in their disaster planning.

According to researcher Roger J. Lewis, MD, PhD, "When this information was collected in 2004, we found a generally a high level of availability of equipment and supplies while, on the other hand, there were significant shortages of ventilators, chemical antidotes, and antibiotics and a failure to fully integrate interagency training and planning. Most importantly, hospitals in Los Angeles County are often full with a severely limited surge capacity."

Carol Meyer, the Director of the Los Angeles County EMS Agency, the entity that oversees medical and health disaster preparedness in Los Angeles County, notes that "Since Drs. Kaji and Lewis performed their study, the LA County EMS Agency has developed hospital Disaster Resource Centers whose primary purpose is to facilitate integration of hospital-based disaster plans with EMS and other community resources. This integration is a high priority for Los Angeles County."

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