Arkansas Works To Meet Federal Deadline On Planning For Catastrophe

Jan 26, 2016

A 2013 military training exercise at a Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana after a simulated combat attack.
Credit U.S. Air Force

If Arkansas was hit by a major catastrophe that had more people needing emergency care than hospitals could handle, how would the medical community respond? State health officials and providers are working to complete planning for just such an emergency.

"We’ve been engaged with our hospitals for several years in looking at a change in their usual healthcare operations should the hospitals be faced with some type of catastrophic event such as an influenza pandemic or even another catastrophic event such as an earthquake, such as New Madrid," said Dr. William Mason, head of preparedness and emergency response for the Arkansas Department of Health, who is helping lead the planning.

The federal government is requiring each state to have a "Crisis Standards of Care" plan in place by next year.

The Institute of Medicine says once a disaster is declared, care would shift from focusing on individual patients to sharing limited resources for the population as a whole. Dr. Mason says it’s important that key decisions about how to do that are made before an incident occurs.

"It’s a forced choice based on the situation, so what we’ve got to do with our hospitals is to undertake these plans right now and ask the hard questions. What are the ethical choices that hospitals, that physicians and others may have to make when resources are limited, such as ventilators and hospital beds?"

While there is still much more work to be done in Arkansas, Dr. Mason says he’s confident a plan will be finalized before the federal deadline.