$5.9M grant to continue disaster preparedness


U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recently announced $5.9 million in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant funding for the Rhode Island Department of Health (Health) to continue emergency disaster preparedness initiatives for a wide range of public health threats, including terrorism, food borne outbreaks, and health epidemics.

“We, in health care, are appreciative of any health-related funding to help us as a state to prepare and respond to health-related responses that are so important to the health and welfare of our state,” said Peter Ginaitt, Lifespan director of emergency preparedness.

In order to safeguard Rhode Island’s medical facilities and health care systems in the event of mass casualty, natural disasters and public health emergencies, Health will receive $4.4 million in federal grants through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement and $1.5 million in federal funding to strengthen its Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP).

“The 5.9 million is the total pot distributed to Health and the health care support network statewide. Most of this funding for us comes from HHS annually,” said Ginaitt. “That funding is designed to better fund public health with 4.4 million to public health and 1.5 million to hospital preparedness. Of that amount, it is distributed to all hospitals with Lifespan’s portion at roughly $150,000 between RI Hospital, Miriam, Newport and Bradley Hospitals.”

“This is a sound investment in bolstering public safety. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the Boston bombings, this federal funding will help ensure the Rhode Island Department of Health and local hospitals can respond quickly and effectively when a major disaster strikes,” said Senator Reed in a release.

A member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees federal funding for HHS programs, Reed noted the importance of providing adequate support to the first responder network. “Our dedicated hospital workers and emergency responders are our first line of medical defense when disaster strikes. This federal funding will help bolster Rhode Island’s emergency response capabilities and ensure hospitals and medical centers across the state are ready to effectively respond when we need them the most,” he said.

Senator Whitehouse was in agreement.

“When disaster strikes, our first responders and hospital staff must have the resources they need to respond quickly and effectively,” he said in a statement. “This federal funding will help ensure the state agencies we turn to in times of crisis are adequately prepared.”

Speaking at last month’s National Executive Emergency Management Academy at FEMA, Ginaitt provided perspective on the current funding climate.

“In a meeting just today with Rear Admiral Scott Deitchman, associate director for terrorism preparedness and emergency response with CDC, and Edward Gabriel, principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response in HHS, I was able to discuss the critical need for sustainable grant funding to support our hospitals,” said Ginaitt. “They both acknowledged the importance and the fact that funding could be better. We all agreed that the funding directed to the public health preparedness continues to be critical and additional funding must be identified to support our health care preparedness as we are all facing many financial challenges.”

Although appreciative of the $5.9 million, the funding is actually less than what was previously seen due to sequestration.

“We are level funded, less 5 percent,” said Ginaitt. “We are happy to have the overall support. Cuts have been taken, but the leadership has endorsed emergency preparedness and management. That $1.5 million is the total for HHP for the state of Rhode Island. We will continue to do as much as we can with less.”

Providing a realistic frame of reference, Ginaitt broke it down proportionally.

“RIH receives approximately $55,000, Miriam $30,000 annually for emergency preparedness from HPP,” he said.

Ginaitt addressed the need for a strong, dedicated and structured network of hospitals throughout the Rhode Island health care system, working both individually and in cooperation with each other in emergency preparedness planning, preparation and response.

“This is certainly welcome news and on behalf of Care New England, we are grateful for additional resources that will help support preparedness efforts,” said Jim Beardsworth, spokesman. “As we know, hospitals play a key role in the community and especially in the event of a widespread emergency or public health threat. We continue to ensure that we train, plan and prepare. These funds will help support efforts that are critical to our cities, towns and state.”

“Health PHEP funds are used to support some of the health care facilities’ initiatives [tactical communications, electronic reporting and the development of the Long Term Care Mutual Aid Plan and its exercises],” said Dara Chadwick, spokesperson for Health. “The Medical Emergency Distribution System (MEDS) funds to the municipalities also come from PHEP. MEDS assists Rhode Island municipalities in distributing and dispensing medical supplies.”

Several statewide initiatives are funded by the PHEP grants annually, including the Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response (CEPR), radiological support, laboratory capacity and Health employee support programs.

“This is continuation funding for the Health department’s network support,” said Chadwick. “HPP is 80 percent pass-through funding for planning, equipment, communications, training and exercises.”

“Over the years, a tremendous amount of emphasis has been placed on preparedness throughout the nation,” said Ginaitt.

One of only 30 persons chosen to attend the national FEMA two-year (four-week) training in Emmitsburg, Md., Ginaitt was one of four participants representing the private sector and the only health care representative.

“Lifespan responded as well as instituting emergency preparedness initiatives at each facility and at the system-wide level at Lifespan,” he said. “We know our level of readiness is better if done so collaboratively to benefit from a cohesive plan through an organized incident response. Funding opportunities in the past years have better prepared us through enhanced communications, plan developments, surveillance devices for recognition and alerts, drills, exercises and other products to support and protect our critical infrastructures.”

Lifespan has emergency preparedness coordinators on staff at each facility, managing daily activities and providing communications support at the individual locations. Critical functionality sustainability is also an important function, providing for pre-planned response in the event of any system break. Facilities focus on their ability to sustain and provide health care during system restoration.

Lifespan and the hospital networks utilized previous funding to purchase respiratory protection devices, surge capacity equipment, including beds and other support tools, emergency ventilators, emergency drug supplies, communications systems both statistical and mobile, radiological survey equipment and some funding to improve our emergency operations centers, according to Ginaitt.

Lifespan was awarded $5 million in funding in 2008, according to Ginaitt. The organization created the Rapid Emergency Satellite Communications Systems (RESCQ) now used by hospitals and key state and local emergency response agencies statewide.

“We also created the first statewide Patient Tracking System [PTS] through a coordinated development with the RI Department of Health,” said Ginaitt. “Many changes continue and with the increased preparedness partnerships between government and the private sector, we continue to better our overall preparedness at Lifespan. I personally have witnessed advancements beneficial to health care and hope it remains a priority in RI as we move forward. We have built some incredible systems.”

According to the legislative release, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) administer PHEP funding strengthening the nation’s health security through preparedness and response.

The release further spoke to the need for a cooperative effort throughout the health care system, noting “requirements of the HPP and PHEP cooperative agreements are complementary and aligned to minimize administrative tasks for state health departments.”

“Coordination of activities with emergency management and homeland security programs supports ‘whole community’ planning to improve national preparedness efforts,” said Ginaitt.

“We are very grateful to Senators Reed and Whitehouse for helping us to secure the funding,” said Chadwick.


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