By Sara Chang, Program Analyst, Infectious Disease, NACCHO
With the World Health Organization declaring Liberia free of Ebola virus transmission on May 9 and cases slowing in the most affected areas, now is the time for local health departments to take stock and make improvements to further strengthen their preparedness efforts. Melissa Marquis, RN, MS, Public Health Emergency Response Specialist for the West Hartford-Bloomfield and Farmington Valley Health Districts in Connecticut, dedicated substantial time and effort to documenting Ebola preparedness and response activities to make this process easier for her two health departments. Melissa is responsible for developing and maintaining public health emergency response plans and ensuring staff and key stakeholders are aware of their roles and responsibilities as outlined within the plans.
The 2014 – 2015 Ebola outbreak, characterized as the worst Ebola outbreak in history, presents exceptional challenges to documenting, monitoring, and conveying the work done related to preparedness and response. To capture this information through time and across partner organizations, Melissa developed a tool based on the Public Health Preparedness Capabilities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Healthcare Preparedness Capabilities from the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. These capabilities exist to assist health departments in identifying gaps, determining priorities, and developing plans, thereby accelerating efforts to increase the resiliency and preparedness of communities. To succeed in these efforts, however, these capabilities must be fully integrated with and utilized in planning processes.
Melissa’s tool is in Excel, a familiar and user-friendly format that allows individuals and organizations to customize the workbook to their unique needs and circumstances. Each Public Health Preparedness Capability and Healthcare Preparedness Capability has its own tab with detailed columns to make for quick and easy recording of preparedness and response activities. The columns provide space for information about the ability to perform the functions associated with each capability, related performance measures, the specific action taken, action items or next steps to follow up, and identification of strengths or areas of improvement.
“The intent behind the creation of this tool is to be able to show documentation of all activities taken, and to serve as a resource for completion of multiple local, state, and federal deliverables across the public health spectrum,” said Melissa. She used the tool to facilitate development of after-action reports, and suggested it is also helpful in partnership development to monitor engagement with other organizations and the growth of those working relationships over time.
Although there have been no cases of Ebola in Connecticut, the state continues to be on the ready in case someone should become sick. The state has taken several measures to prevent Ebola, including exercising authorities to prevent the spread of the virus, assessment of hospitals and their readiness to respond, and the convening of a statewide emergency management coordination team. “This workbook allows for resource sharing, information sharing, and situational awareness,” Melissa stated, “and would be a powerful tool in the event a local health department receives additional returning travelers or travelers who become symptomatic.” She said she will continue to use this resource, especially as Connecticut remains in a state of public health emergency, to strengthen their healthcare coalition engagement and advance their regional planning efforts.
The tool, while a result of Ebola preparedness and response work, can be adapted for other health-related activities. Local health departments may use this approach for any work requiring evaluation and monitoring, identification of lessons learned, and development of action plans, and may find it of benefit for certification, accreditation, and quality improvement efforts. It may also be helpful for local health departments engaged in or considering involvement with Project Public Health Ready, a competency-based training and recognition program that assesses capacity and capability to plan for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies. Melissa suggested local health departments can use the tool for key events, incidents requiring a multidisciplinary response, and any real-world events like having a patient under investigation for possible Ebola or other infectious diseases.
Although the Ebola outbreak appears to be slowing down, local health departments must continue to be vigilant by taking proactive steps to coordinate with other stakeholders, train the workforce, and enhance capacity to respond to this and other infectious disease threats. This tool is an effective resource in documenting those activities as steps are taken to protect the public’s health and increase the public health infrastructure.
Find this tool and other public health preparedness resources in NACCHO’s toolbox.
About Sara Chang
Sara Chang is a program analyst for NACCHO’s Infectious Disease team. She works with local health departments on such topics as outbreak response, infectious disease prevention and control, and healthcare-associated infections. Twitter: @changsara