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Statement of The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania

Before the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee

Submitted by

Mark Ross
Regional Emergency Preparedness Manager
The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP)

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
October 23, 2014

Chairman Barrar, Chairman Sainato, members of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments regarding the commonwealth’s preparedness to address health emergencies related to infectious diseases, such as Ebola.

My name is Mark Ross, regional emergency preparedness manager, for The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). HAP represents and advocates for the nearly 240 acute and specialty care hospitals and health systems in Pennsylvania and the patients they serve.

In my role as regional emergency preparedness manager for southeastern Pennsylvania, I support hospitals and health systems as they respond to a wide array of health emergencies.

HAP’s testimony will focus on these main points:

  • The hospital community is following the guidance of, and working with, local, state, and national public health authorities to do everything possible to prevent the possibility of an Ebola outbreak here or anywhere in the U.S.
  • Hospitals have extensive expertise and experience in treating serious infectious diseases.
  • Hospital staff are trained and prepared to identify, protect against, isolate, and treat an array of infectious and contagious diseases from influenza to anthrax and Ebola.
  • Safety comes first in hospital preparations to address Ebola. The safety of hospital patients, staff, volunteers, and the community at large is a hospital’s first focus.
  • Hospitals have been working together with government colleagues for more than a decade to plan, train, exercise, and prepare for “all-hazards” emergencies, including public health emergencies due to infectious diseases both from terrorism and natural sources.

Hospitals Are Following Public Health Guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the lead agency for the nation’s response to the threat of Ebola. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is the lead governmental agency for public health and infectious disease outbreaks, including Ebola, in Pennsylvania.

HAP and Pennsylvania hospitals have a long history of working with local, state, and federal agencies to address public health problems. Hospitals continue to receive guidance from key government entities via conference calls on how to identify potentially contagious patients and implement procedures needed to keep the commonwealth safe.

HAP, hospitals, and other stakeholders are working collaboratively to make sure that Pennsylvania’s health care system is prepared to respond to Ebola.

The guidance and recommendations from national, state, and local public health authorities are evolving in response to the changing situation as hospitals care for several health care workers who have become infected with Ebola on U.S. soil.

HAP and the hospital community have been monitoring new public heath guidance as it becomes available. We are making sure that hospitals have this guidance and are implementing it, and we will continue to do so.

Hospitals Have Expertise and Experience in Treating Serious Infectious Diseases

Pennsylvania hospitals prepare for all types of emergencies every day in order to provide necessary care for their patients and communities. Every hospital has plans, protocols, and appropriate supplies and equipment in place to care for patients with an array of infectious diseases including Ebola.

All clinical staff are trained in standard infection control procedures as part of their educational curriculum prior to being employed by a hospital. All clinicians must demonstrate their knowledge of these procedures prior to being licensed to practice. Once they are employed by a hospital, clinicians are provided additional training on an ongoing basis.

As part of accreditation by The Joint Commission and other organizations, hospital staff must complete annual safety training, which includes training in infection control protocols.

Ebola is just one of a host of serious infectious diseases hospitals must be prepared to identify and safely treat each and every day. The list includes enterovirus-D68; middle east respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS; and Chikungunya; as well as more common diseases such as meningitis, malaria, Dengue fever, and influenza.

Working closely with local, state and federal authorities, the hospital community has in the past effectively responded to the emergence of new and serious infectious diseases, including H1N1, also known as swine flu, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Hospitals Are Ready to Detect, Protect Against, Isolate, and Treat Ebola

All hospitals are prepared to perform medical screening of all patients seeking care, including those who may have an infectious disease. This screening includes a brief medical history, detection of any symptoms of illness and—with the emergence of Ebola—a travel history.

Hospitals have procedures in place to quickly isolate any patients who are identified through this screening process and to notify the appropriate public health authorities and CDC Rapid Response Team. Local health departments, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, and the CDC have many guidance documents and other resources specific to Ebola.

For example, the CDC has provided a detailed hospital checklist for Ebola preparedness. The checklist outlines specific clinical steps for both screening and providing care to patients who are suspected to have Ebola, along with all the actions hospitals should take to ensure that their employees are prepared should an Ebola patient arrive at the hospital. The newest CDC guidelines were issued this week.

Safety Comes First in Hospital Preparations to Address Ebola

Hospitals and health systems are dedicated to protecting the safety and health of their patients and visitors, staff, volunteers, and community at large in all types of emergencies, including serious infectious diseases such as Ebola. As stated, hospitals are implementing national, state, and city recommendations regarding the most effective, and safest, ways to detect, protect against, isolate, and treat Ebola.

For example, hospitals are following current guidance that hospital workers should wear personal protective equipment whenever they come into contact with a patient who is suspected to have been infected with the Ebola virus. These precautions are consistent with normal practice standards and are the standard precautions health care workers use whenever they are caring for any patient with any potentially infectious disease.

The emergence of the Ebola virus in the U.S., the infection of several health care workers in Dallas who cared for an Ebola patient there, and related media attention has served to heighten the awareness of all hospitals and health care workers of the importance of following strict infection control procedures.

Hospitals Are Prepared for Emergencies of All Kinds

For more than a decade government, hospitals, and other stakeholders have worked together to identify and prepare for the many different types of emergencies that could impact local communities, region, state, and nation.

This “all-hazards” approach to preparedness is a recognized best practice and includes preparation for emergencies related to weather, public health, and terrorist events. HAP and hospitals collaborate regularly with all levels of government on this important work.

Further, we are committed to working with our elected officials to play a leadership role in calming public fears, providing timely, reliable, and factual information and minimizing the sensationalized coverage that can cause unnecessary public panic.

Thank you again for convening this hearing to consider this important issue. I would be happy to have any questions you may have.

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