Guidelines for Bioterrorism Preparedness for Hospitals Announced

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration Healthcare Systems Bureau announced its 2005 National Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program Continuation Guidance this month. The guidance sets the newest critical benchmarks and minimal levels of readiness that regional health systems must meet to qualify for federal assistance under the authority of the Public Health Service Act.

According to the guidance, "The purpose of the program is to enhance the ability of hospitals and health care systems to prepare for and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. These emergency preparedness and response efforts are intended to support the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System."

Among the benchmarks, the guidance calls for:

  • A secure and redundant communications system that insures connectivity during a terrorist incident or other public health emergency between health care facilities and state and local health departments, emergency medical services, emergency management agencies, public safety agencies, neighboring jurisdictions and federal public health officials.
  • Strategies to increase hospital bed availability including deferring elective procedures, more stringent triage for admission, and earlier discharge with follow-up by home health care personnel.
  • Integration of disease surveillance systems at the state and local levels, including hospital-based surveillance systems so that relevant data on disease reporting is rapidly captured and analyzed. Systems should allow for electronic communication between hospitals and public health departments at all levels.
  • A system that enhances the statewide mutual aid plan to deploy EMS units in jurisdictions/regions they do not normally cover, in response to a mass casualty incident due to terrorism.
  • The capability of providing EMS triage, transportation and patient tracking for at least 500 adult and pediatric patients per million population within 3 hours post-event.
  • Enhancing the capability of rural and urban hospitals, clinics, emergency medical services systems and poison control centers to report syndromic and diagnostic data that is suggestive of terrorism or other highly infectious disease to their local and state health departments on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week basis.
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