The Center for Health Affairs, an advocate for hospitals in Northeast Ohio, received $789,110 in hospital emergency preparedness funds for fiscal year (FY) 2016-2017, representing a decrease of 2.5 percent in funding compared to the previous year. This is the 11th year of declining funding for the program.
The funds, awarded by the Ohio Department of Health and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services responsible for responding to and preparing for public health emergencies, were announced in May.
Over the past 10 years, federal hospital emergency preparedness grant funding has decreased by more than 50 percent, a trend that is expected to continue over the next several grant periods, according to Beth Gatlin, the Center for Health Affairs’ ASPR project director.
Combined federal, state and local public health spending is steadily decreasing and has fallen below pre-recession levels at $75.4 billion in 2013 or $239 per person ($218 adjusted for inflation) compared to $241 per person in 2009.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), a non-profit organization that focuses on disease prevention, has reported that public health spending was 10 percent lower in 2013 than in 2009. The budget for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has decreased from a high of $7.07 billion in FY 2005 to $6.93 billion in FY 2015.
Decreases in funding have caused some to question whether the US public health system is prepared for a possible public heath crisis, such as Zika or Ebola.
The mosquito borne Zika virus has been labeled a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is the latest in a string of recent infectious disease threats, from avian influenza to Ebola. Public health experts say the Ebola crisis highlighted serious gaps in the nation’s preparedness for public health emergencies.
“We cannot afford to let our guard down. We must remain vigilant in preparing for any potential mass casualty event. Yet, year after year, we see less and less funds going to the people who and departments that are responsible for preparing for a public health emergency,” said TFAH Deputy Director Rich Hamburg.
The Center for Health Affairs’ Emergency Preparedness program is designed to improve the level of emergency preparedness in Northeast Ohio by increasing the capacity and capability of local hospitals to respond to and recover from natural and man-made disasters.
“The ASPR funding allows us to provide each of our member hospitals with between $9,000 and $30,000 to help prepare their facilities for emergencies such as chemical spills, power outages, mass casualties, information system failures and terrorist events,” said Gatlin. “Members use their allocations to maintain existing equipment, replace antiquated equipment or to conduct trainings and exercises.”
The Center claims that its emergency preparedness team will prioritize, as in the past, communication, functional needs issues, exercises and training during the current ASPR funding cycle, which runs from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.
“Initially, we tended to use a large portion of our ASPR funding to stockpile supplies our members would need during emergencies or mass casualty events,” explained Gatlin. “Now that we have these supplies, we have been able to maintain our preparedness with less funding but I do worrywhat will happen if the funding goes away. The relationships we’ve built will still be there but it would be hard to maintain the level of preparedness we have today without a coordinated, deliberate effort.”
The US Department of Health and Human Services’ “Public Health and Social Services Emergency” fund for FY 2017 will include $1.4 billion in funding for the ASPR, a decrease of $102 million from the previous year.