Author: Richard Hunt, MD Senior Medical Advisor, National Health Care Preparedness Programs, ASPR and John Hick, MD, Deputy Chief EMS Medical Director, Hennepin County Medical Center
During EMS Week, we want to draw attention to the vital role EMS plays in disaster healthcare and salute our Emergency Medical Services colleagues nationwide. We know that across the country, our EMS colleagues work on the frontlines of health, providing lifesaving services every day, even on the worst days in your communities. EMS is the first point of contact with medical services for millions of Americans, and with every call EMS professionals put years of training and education to use to make a difference. Your care saves lives.
All too frequently, EMS must respond not just to every-day emergencies but also to hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, mass casualty incidents (including cases of mass violence), chemical spills, possible Ebola cases, and other natural and manmade disasters. At ASPR, we encourage EMS to take a strong role in all phases of emergency and disaster management; we know that when it comes to saving lives, the health care community is stronger together.
ASPR has identified EMS as one of four core members of Health Care Coalitions, making it easy for your EMS agency to be engaged with other disaster preparedness and response organizations. These coalitions are funded and guided by ASPR’s Hospital Preparedness Program (although it’s really a healthcare preparedness program). The $255 million grant program provides funding to states, major cities, and U.S. territories to develop and institutionalize health care coalitions. Together as a coalition, all facets of the community’s, the state’s or the entire region’s healthcare system can plan and respond to disasters.
These coalitions provide a foundation for disaster health care and medical readiness in that they enable members of the coalition to coordinate efforts before, during, and after emergencies; continue operations; and surge as necessary. Health care coalitions incentivize diverse and often competitive health care organizations to work together to improve health outcomes after disasters. Core members of coalitions include hospitals and other healthcare facilities, EMS, emergency management, and public health.
Health care coalitions also serve as the foundation of a regional disaster health response system.
EMS: Essential Members of Health Care Coalitions
While EMS, hospitals, emergency management, and public health all are fundamental components of disaster health response, none responds alone. The community’s, even the region’s, entire health care system must work together to assure the best patient care is provided given the resources available. EMS can contribute to planning and response for medical surge; assess risks and resources, bring your unique experience to evacuation planning, communications systems integration, and emergency operations plan; and participate in coalition exercises.
The value of participating in a health care coalition reaches beyond emergency readiness and collective response. Coalitions also contribute to daily operations, providing:
- Accessing clinical and non-clinical expertise;
- Networking among peers;
- Sharing leading practices;
- Developing interdependent relationships;
- Reducing risk – including from infectious disease transmission (check out the ASPR-TRACIE resource EMS Infectious Disease Playbook); and
- Addressing other community needs, including meeting requirements for tax exemption through community benefit.
How does my EMS unit get involved?
- Contact your state health department’s health care coalition lead or your regional hospital preparedness program liaison to connect your organization to a nearby health care coalition.
- Take note of the specific roles for EMS recommended in ASPR’s 2017-2022 Health Care Preparedness and Response Capabilities.
- Share and coordinate your preparedness and response plans with coalition members. Your expertise can be an invaluable resource for other members.
- Identify and share your organization’s unique needs and contributions to disaster response.
- Work with other EMS organizations state and region to ensure all EMS organizations’ strengths, resources, and interests are represented and coordinate in your coalition.
- If invited by the coalition, volunteer to participate in the ASPR/FEMA-sponsored Health Care Coalition Response Leadership Course.
- Complete the EMS section of the ASPR TRACIE Health Care Coalition Resource and Gap Analysis Tool to assist in identifying priority areas for planning.
- Explore disaster-related topics of interest on the TRACIE website. TRACIE provides a wealth of vetted resources for disaster planning for EMS and other stakeholders through our topic collections and assistance center!
Bottom line – with EMS participating in a health care coalition, your community can respond better to manmade and natural disasters. EMS is an invaluable asset for our nation’s health security. Thank you for your service today and every day.