California's Pandemic Flu Plan Tested

April 30, 2009 10:09:24 PM PDT
The H1N1 outbreak is putting the state's pandemic flu plan to the test. While it may look good on paper, its execution needs work.

State leaders assured Californians the holes in the state's pandemic flu plan uncovered three years ago have been fixed, and they are prepared for this H1N1 outbreak thanks to increased funding.

"Giving us major resources to be able to purchase personal protective equipment, anti-viral medications, supplies to be able to increase hospital beds. All that stuff has been put in place," said California Public Health Director Dr. Mark Horton.

But a hearing about the state's preparedness points out problems in implementation.

Many hospitals, for instance, haven't been able to handle the onslaught of patients filling emergency rooms.

In some parts of California, they're setting up triage tents in hospital parking lots, calling into question whether the state's ERs have what's called "surge capacity."

"We feel we're under-prepared for any type of disaster management in the emergency room," said Emergency Room doctor Matthew Foley, M.D.

And those masks that we've seen people wear as a precautionary measure are another problem. Staff working the frontlines in community clinics are begging for protection.

"Their counties have informed them that the county will not be supplying them with personal protective equipment or medications as this time," said Carmella Castellano-Garcia from California Primary Care Association.

County health departments are realizing, too, years of budget cuts mean they are way understaffed for an outbreak.

Sacramento's three cases alone required nearly 700 man-hours with no one to relieve them.

"We haven't seen much in the way of new resources. So this 'thinness', there's not much reserve to fall back on," said Bruce Pomer from the Health Officer's Association of California.

Senator Dean Flores who organized the hearings said this is certainly a wake-up call. He expects changes will be made to address those problems.


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