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Second U.S. Senate Hearing on Preparedness and Response Highlights Health Care Providers’ Perspectives

January 23, 2018

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D, PA) served as the Ranking Member overseeing the second in a series of hearings by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee that will lay the foundation for the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA).

The hearing today—Facing 21st Century Public Health Threats: Our Nation’s Preparedness and Response Capabilities—allowed public health officials and health care practitioners to provide counsel to members of the HELP Committee as they consider policy to address public health threats ranging from infectious diseases, to natural disasters, bioterror attacks, and mass casualty events.

In a hearing last week, the Senate HELP Committee heard testimony outlining the priorities of key federal Administration officials leading public health and preparedness activities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Senators Casey and Richard Burr (R, NC) are working in a bipartisan partnership to advance preparedness legislation. In opening testimony, Senator Burr (R, NC) outlined a range of priorities:

  • Leveraging innovative technologies
  • Encouraging the development of vaccines and medical countermeasures
  • Promoting enhanced information sharing crucial to public health
  • Strengthening the infrastructure to care for patients

Senator Casey spoke to hardening our nation’s resiliency to health security threats by improving the public health capacity through greater precision in surveillance and targeted resources, and reinforcing the front line defense against health threats, including hospitals and the public health network.

Specifically, Senator Casey lauded the success of the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), but cautioned that funding has decreased as federal appropriations of dollars have fallen behind the authorized funding level. He called for sustained funding for the HPP and Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, which provides funding for state and local public health departments. The Senator cited a tangible example of how HPP funding is utilized—applauding the collaborative response by local emergency response and the regional health care coalition to maintain continuity of operations at St. Vincent Hospital in Erie when extreme cold conditions led to frozen and burst water pipes.

Testimony by Dr. John Dreyzehner, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health, reinforced the crucial role that HPP and PHEP funding serves in solidifying the connections between the tiers of public health responders:

  • Emergency preparedness professionals
  • Those who have deep emergency preparedness training but whose daily duties are more in line with traditional public health work
  • All other public health professionals like public health nurses who stand ready to assist when needed

All of the witnesses spoke to the challenges of building capacity and suggested the importance of leveraging regional strength. For instance, in testimony, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the Director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a Professor of Public Health and Medicine, recommended the creation of specialized Disaster Resource Hospitals that would be designated facilities with special national and regional responsibilities to prepare for disasters and epidemics.

HAP is working closely with hospital and health system members to help inform Senator Casey as he and Senator Burr begin to shape the PAHPA reauthorization.

Please contact Laura Stevens Kent, HAP’s vice president, federal advocacy, for questions regarding the PAHPA reauthorization process. Questions pertaining to HAP’s emergency preparedness work may be directed to Michael Consuelos, MD, HAP’s senior vice president, clinical integration. 

 

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