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U.S. Hospitals Unprepared For Attacks

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, May 08, 2008 9:26 AM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family, In The Workplace
Tags: Emergency Room Care, Head Injury, Worksite Injuries, Public Hospitals, Critical Care

U.S. ERs are not prepared to handle a terrorist attack in any one of seven cities lawmakers discussed. 



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ emergency room/ author: Thierry Geoffroy


In 2004, a series of coordinated bombings on the commuter train system in Madrid during the morning rush hour killed 191 people and send nearly 300 to a local hospital within hours.

The attacks were determined to have directed by an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell, though no direct link to the group was established.

And even seven years after the September 11th attack on the U.S., hospitals here are not prepared to handle a “surge” of patients that will need emergency care, according to a House oversight committee.

Two days ago Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a report on seven cities and 34 hospitals and found not one was prepared on that day for the effects of a terrorist attack.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt agreed there are gaps in the ability of U.S. hospitals to deal with mass-casualties. 

But neither agrees that stopping cuts to Medicaid would solve the problem. 

The release of the Waxman report was timed with a House plan to stop the Bush administration's proposed cuts to the Medicaid budget in order to save $13 billion over five years.  The impact would be felt on the poor and in public hospital emergency rooms and physician training.   

President Bush has indicated he’ll veto the one-year moratorium on the changes proposed by the House. 

Rep. Waxman says that HHS has not considered the disastrous impact that the cuts would have on emergency room preparedness.

He told the Washington Post, "Why would [HHS] . . . withdraw billions of federal dollars from the hospitals that provide the most comprehensive emergency care to the most seriously injured?" he said. "It's a substantial breach in what I think is our mutual responsibility to make sure we can deal with a homeland security attack."

Rep. Waxman’s report found that Washington D.C. and Los Angeles hospitals were among the worst. On March
25, 2008 at 4:30 pm researchers
also looked at hospitals in New York, Chicago, Houston, Denver and  Minneapolis.   He tells ABC News, 

“There was no available space in the emergency rooms at the main trauma centers serving Washington, D.C. One emergency room was operating at over 200 percent of capacity: more than half the patients receiving emergency care in the hospital had been diverted to hallways and waiting rooms for treatment.

“And in Los Angeles, three of the five Level I trauma centers were so overcrowded that they went 'on diversion,' which means they closed their doors to new patients. If a terrorist attack had occurred in Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles on March 25 when we did our survey, the consequences could have been catastrophic. The emergency care systems were stretched to the breaking point and had no capacity to respond to a surge of victims."

Last month, President Bush told HHS to impose seven new regulations for Medicaid payments to states, local government and public and private hospitals.  The regulations would put more responsibility on the state and less on the federal government.

HHS will be required to determine by the end of the year just how many  available hospital beds can be readied on one hour’s notice in case of a “surge” of need in an emergency. 

CDC determined in 2006 that half of the nations ERs are already overcrowded. #  

1 Comment

Anonymous User
Posted by Adam
Thursday, May 08, 2008 5:56 PM EST

This issue has made me wonder about the sincerity of "Homeland Security" since the beggining. It has been known for decades that the profit-driven private health care system we have is barely capable of taking care of the standard inflow of patients and has no extra capacity of remergencies. The government successfully appropriated billions in intelligence, survelience, and war to "protect the people" but has completely ignored the fact that there is no medical infrastructure in place. This only makes sense if their goal is not protecting the people, but protecting themselves. Katrina showed us just how much they care about people - we can die in the streets - that's fine as long as they can read our e-mails and tap our phone conversations to make sure we don't somehow pose a threat to them (the gov't).

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