King County Executive Ron Sims this week joined with health care leaders to launch a Health Care Coalition for emergency preparedness.
The coalition includes 20 organizations that together encompass a broad swath of the area's public and private health care system.
As its initial charge, the coalition is coordinating an effort to prepare for the severe impacts that a pandemic flu could have on the local health care system.
"As avian flu continues to extend its reach further across the globe, it has become ever more important that we ready our own community for the possibility that a pandemic flu could emerge," Sims said.
"We have an understanding of the incredible strains a pandemic will place on our health care system. An efficient, coordinated response is going to be absolutely essential if we are to minimize social disruption and loss of life."
The demand for health care services in a severe pandemic could overwhelm the current health care system. According to estimates for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the first six to eight weeks of a pandemic in King County:
• One third of the population — 600,000 people — could become clinically ill;
• Up to 470,000 outpatient medical visits may be needed;
• Over 57,000 people may need hospitalization; and
• 11,500 could die.
"We're organizing this effort around a simple, but powerful, principle: In any large-scale disaster, we need to work together to be effective. No one hospital, community clinic, medical practice or health care provider will be able to do it alone," said Dorothy Teeter, interim director and health officer for Public Health-Seattle & King County.
"Our health care partners understand the importance of preparing our community now for pandemic flu and are demonstrating their commitment by joining the coalition."
Johnese Spisso, chief operating officer of Harborview Medical Center, agreed.
"We are pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate and build on the great foundation we have with the disaster preparedness efforts in this community in our role of hospital control coordination among hospitals and the emergency medical services system," Spisso said.
The new Health Care Coalition is working to:
• Expand the health system's emergency response capacity through regional agreements and plans;
• Coordinate the emergency response of health care organizations through effective communications channels;
• Integrate the health system's response into the larger emergency response; and
• Advise public officials on health policy matters during emergencies.
Information and resources will be coordinated and shared by the health care system. As part of the coalition's work, a Regional Medical Resource Center will be developed as a coordination center for health care providers.
A broad base of health care organizations are represented on the Health Care Coalition, including hospitals, ambulatory care providers, safety net health care organizations, professional associations and other health care providers.
The coalition is one extension of an ongoing pandemic flu preparedness initiative led by Public Health-Seattle & King County. The initiative includes outreach and detailed planning with the hospital and health care community, local businesses, government agencies and essential service providers, community-based organizations, state and federal health authorities and the public.
A pandemic flu is a new influenza virus that could be a much more serious flu virus than seen in a typical flu season. Different from the typical, seasonal strains of flu, humans would have little or no natural resistance to a new strain of influenza. No vaccine is available at this time for a pandemic flu, and it is expected to take at least six months after a pandemic flu appears to develop a vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that in the United States alone, an influenza pandemic could make up to 90 million people clinically ill and cause over 2 million deaths. Up to 35 percent of the work force could be affected, and the economic impact in the United States could be up to $166.5 billion.
Basic services, such as health care, law enforcement, emergency response, communications, transportation and utilities could be disrupted during a pandemic. Unlike many other emergency events, a pandemic flu could last for many weeks, if not months, and would affect communities throughout the United States and the world.
For more information and resources on pandemic flu, including how individuals can prepare, visit www.metrokc.gov/health/pandemicflu.