Late last Friday, President Obama declared the H1N1 outbreak a national emergency. It was an effort to proactively respond to ongoing flu pandemic in the U.S. and clears the way for healthcare facilites to quickly implement disaster plans should facilities become overwhelmed.
What does that mean?
Well, the declaration gives "authority for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to waive certain regulatory requirements for healthcare facilities in response the ongoing pandemic. Specifically, healthcare facilities will be able to submit waivers to establish alternate care sites, and modified patient triage protocols, patient transfer procedures and other actions that occur when they fully implement disaster operations plans." 1
Several hospitals around the country have already set up tents in their parking lots to screen those who are suspected of having the flu. The tents did not require waivers as they were set up for screening and not treatment. Should hospitals experience such heavy patient load as to require treatment in alternate locations such as tents, they will need to apply for the waivers through the HHS. By declaring the national emergency early, those facilities applying for waivers can more quickly receive processing and approval.
"Public health experts praised the move, saying it was an important precautionary step that could help hospitals and other first responders care for large numbers of sick people as the outbreak continues." 2
So what does this national emergency declaration mean for you?
For right now, probably not much. But do not be surprised if your hospital room looks a little different if you check in with the swine flu.
You can read the full text of the White House press release here:
TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
Pursuant to section 201 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1621), I hereby report that I have exercised my authority to declare a national emergency in order to be prepared in the event of a rapid increase in illness across the Nation that may overburden health care resources. This declaration will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services, if necessary, to temporarily waive certain standard Federal requirements in order to enable U.S. health care facilities to implement emergency operations plans to deal with the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in the United States. A copy of my proclamation is attached.
Further, I have authorized the Secretary of Health and Human Services to exercise the authority under section 1135 of the Social Security Act to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements of the Medicare, Medicaid, and State Children's Health Insurance programs and of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule as necessary to respond to the pandemic throughout the duration of the public health emergency declared in response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.
THE WHITE HOUSE,
October 23, 2009.
For more information on H1N1 and the season flu virus, please visit flu.gov.
To purchase your pandemic flu kit, visit Ready Set Go Kits