A New Solution to the Issue of Healthcare Access into Disaster Areas

Emily Lord

Emily Lord is the Executive Director of Rx Response. She provides strategic guidance and oversight to programs that build community health resilience in times of disaster or pandemic outbreaks. This includes creating partnerships with the private-sector medical supply chain, as well as public health NGOs and local, state and federal government agencies. Emily has led Rx Response through multiple natural disasters including Hurricane Sandy. Emily’s expertise focuses on business continuity and resilience.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the need for a shift from a reactive to proactive approach to addressing the most chronic issues plaguing healthcare preparedness. It’s a big statement and one we are starting to tackle piece by piece (we have our work cut out for us). Our first effort is to push the discussion on access and credentialing into restricted areas after a disaster. Why that topic? It turns out that this is the number one request for assistance we receive after events. Police barricades barring entry for critical private sector personnel happens from the biggest events to the smallest, and while it may not sound like a healthcare issue, it is directly affecting patient access to necessary services.

It’s a topic I’ve spoken a lot about but that’s because there is a fundamental difference in how the private sector and the public sector approach the need for access. Disaster response occurs primarily at the local level and local law enforcement work hard to protect life safety and property after an event. To do so, it’s easier to be conservative and not allow anyone into those areas. However, private sector healthcare has a need to get into their facilities to assess damage and work to continue to care for patients. Luckily many localities are starting to understand the need to allow vetted, critical private sector employees back in. The question has turned from why to how?

The ‘how’ question is not one easily solved. As disaster response is local, it falls to each locality to decide how to create access programs. Unfortunately, this reality has led to the more than 20,000 municipalities, 3,000 counties, and 50 states + DC/territories creating (or beginning to create) a variety of different programs. It’s easy to see, then, why healthcare – which often operates regionally, nationally, or globally – struggles with managing the requirements and relationships with all of these stakeholders.

That’s why we’re here. Rx Response is working to solve this problem in both the short and long-terms. In the short-term Rx Response is:

  • Facilitating one-on-one solutions for members with each individual program
  • Adding any organization affiliated with Rx Response to city exemption lists at police checkpoints
  • Providing major discounts to any member that wants to join either regional non-profit providing disaster credentialing, ER-ITN or CEAS.
  • Drafting and championing common emergency declaration language, and sharing it with state leadership so they have an easy to use template

Our long-term solution includes the creation and promotion of solution in which everyone- all states and territories, local agencies, and private sector companies – can participate. That is why we have partnered with the two leading credentialing programs, CEAS and ER-ITN. Both of these organizations operate regional access programs, with CEAS operating throughout the northeast from Boston to Baltimore, and ER-ITN in the gulf coast states. Rx Response is spear-heading an initiative to create interoperability between these programs so that companies can have access to nearly a third of the United States by joining just one of these programs.

But we know this is not enough of a solution to completely address the needs of private sector healthcare. That’s why Rx Response is leading an initiative to create one nation-wide standard and program to allow any access program- state, local or non-profit – to join. Our goal is to have companies interface with only one portal, while standardized guidelines for all access programs allow interoperability between programs and locales. We believe this approach can work for any sector, but it’s healthcare that’s leading the charge.

Learn more about our solutions and help Rx Response’s efforts in this space. We’ll be releasing a draft standard in the next few months along with a letter of support to drive attention to this issue. We can’t do it without the support of the private sector!

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