NACCHO staff attended the “Going Viral: Keeping Communities Healthy Through Public Health Emergency Preparedness” panel discussion on June 11. This discussion tackled issues on how industry, government, academia, and others can come together to make ensure our communities and our country are healthy and safe.
“We realize here today that no one organization can tackle these issues all on their own,” said William Schuyler, Vice President of Government Relations at GSK. “It takes innovative, public private collaborations that are critical to researching and developing new medicines and new vaccines and new approaches to address the public health crisis that we may be facing in the future.”
Moderated by Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large for The Atlantic, the panel consisted of Irwin Redlener, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute and Professor of Health Policy & Management and Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University; Andrew Garrett, Director of the National Disaster Medical System for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Robin Robinson, Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority; and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness & Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Eric Toner, Senior Associate at UPMC Center for Health Security.
Redlener opened the discussion by making it clear that America is serious about preparedness, just not organized. He claimed citizens’ have a primitive idea of prepared thinking, because they neglect to learn from previous disasters. Panelists agreed that the bureaucracy behind preparedness is hindering its potential. Garrett said we need to think of preparedness as insurance, and that now is the time to invest in it, because disaster is never going to be convenient.
Robinson pointed out that part of that insurance policy, is having medications ready for all areas of preparedness. He said we are responsible for supporting the development of new medicines, and making sure that they’re available.
The discussion also focused on how various departments and associations need to be in sync in order to properly carry out their jobs during emergencies, but that the funding creates a hold, preventing them from carrying out their services. “We have all these disconnects, where we have assets and resources,” Rendelman said. “They get together and they talk to each other, and they talk to other people, but at the end of the day their funding streams are siloed and there’s not much flexibility, or ability to get the level of coordination that people might expect.”
Robinson made it clear that just funding an initiative is not the answer to preparedness because, “you can’t just throw money at a problem.”
Rendelman said the answer to this disconnect is establishing a chain of command, so that people in all levels of government, from the president to civilians know what their roles are. A serious discussion with key decision makers is the first step.