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Emergency Physicians Say Federal Pandemic Flu Plan Doesn't Address Nation's Need

Emergency Physicians Say Federal Pandemic Flu Plan Doesn't Address Nation's Lack of Surge Capacity and Isolation Beds

For Immediate Release
November 9, 2005
Colleen Hughes - (202) 728-0610 x3010

Washington, DC - The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) today commended the Bush Administration for releasing its long-awaited pandemic influenza plan, but expressed concern the plan does not address the lack of surge capacity and isolation capability in the nation's hospital emergency departments. ACEP's President Dr. Rick Blum released the following statement.

"Now that President Bush and Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt have publicly recognized the potential danger of a pandemic flu outbreak, America's emergency physicians are urging the Administration to fully support the U.S. Senate's version of H.R. 3010, the FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which would pump millions of dollars specifically into improving hospital preparedness, increasing hospital bed capacity, and strengthening health information technology systems and networks to improve detection of influenza outbreaks.

"As the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has twice confirmed in reports it issued in 2003 and 2004, the nation's hospitals lack adequate surge capacity, isolation facilities and staff to treat a large increase in the number of patients that may result from a flu pandemic.

"As a result of progressive cuts in reimbursement for medical services and a shortage of trained staff, the nation's hospitals shed 103,000 staffed hospital beds and 7,800 intensive care unit beds during the past decade. These cuts have resulted in longer waits for emergency patients who need admission to an inpatient hospital bed. Furthermore, the boarding of these admitted patients in the emergency department causes crowded conditions, an increased risk of diseases spreading, as well as the diversion of inbound ambulances to other hospitals.

"President Bush said in his speech when unveiling the Administration's Pandemic Flu Plan that while there is no pandemic influenza in the U.S. right now, if 'history is our guide there is reason to be concerned.'

"If history is our guide, it is important we learn from the tragic consequences of the 2003 SARS Outbreak in Toronto, when the second SARS victim, who was thought to have pneumonia, was held in one of the city's emergency department for an extended period of time until an inpatient bed became available. As a result, 78 people were infected, five of whom died, all as a result of one admitted patient spending the night in the emergency department instead of an inpatient unit.

"What happened in Canada can happen in our country as well. Even though the U.S. has poured millions of dollars into its preparedness, virtually none of the funding has gone to the one place that is the true first response to a flu epidemic, or a hurricane, or a terrorist attack - the nation's emergency departments. To prevent history from repeating itself, the Administration must support the provision of funding to address the deficiencies in our hospital emergency departments or hundreds, if not thousands, of lives will be needlessly lost when a pandemic flu ultimately impacts our country.

"We look forward to working with President Bush and the U.S. Congress to ensure the final version of H.R. 3010 includes the Senate provision that recognizes the important role emergency physicians and emergency departments will play in the event of a pandemic flu and provides funding accordingly."

ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine with more than 23,000 members. ACEP is committed to improving the quality of emergency care through continuing education, research and public education.


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