OBJECTIVE: To assess the level of pandemic preparedness at emergency departments (EDs) around the country and to better understand current barriers to preparedness in the United States represented by health professionals in the American College of Emergency Physician (ACEP) Disaster Medicine Section (DMS). Methods, design, and setting: A cross-sectional survey of ACEP DMS members was performed. A total of 300 members were surveyed both via e-mail and with paper surveys during the 2009 ACEP Scientific Assembly DMS Meeting. An optional comments section was included for section members' perspectives on barriers to preparedness. A 15-item pandemic preparedness score was calculated for each respondent based on key preparedness indicators as defined by the authors. Results were analyzed with descriptive statistics, χ2 analysis, Cochran-Armitage trend test, and analysis of variance. Free text comments were coded and subjected to frequency-based analysis. RESULTS: A total of 92 DMS members completed the survey with a response rate of 31 percent. Although 85 percent of those surveyed indicated that their hospital had a plan for pandemic influenza response and other infectious disease threats, only 68 percent indicated that their ED had a plan, and 52 percent indicated that their hospital or ED had conducted disaster preparedness drills. Only 57 percent indicated that there was a plan to augment ED staff in the event of a staffing shortage, and 63 percent indicated that there were adequate supplies of personal protective equipment. While 63 percent of respondents indicated that their ED had a plan for distribution of vaccines and antivirals, only 32 percent of EDs had a plan for allocation of ventilators. A total of 42 percent of respondents felt that their ED was prepared in the event of a pandemic influenza or other disease outbreak, and only 35 percent felt that their hospital was prepared. The average pandemic preparedness score among respondents was 8.30 of a total of 15. Larger EDs were more likely to have a higher preparedness score (p = 0.03) and more likely to have a pandemic preparedness plan (p = 0.037). Some major barriers to preparedness cited by section members included lack of local administration support, challenges in funding, need for dedicated disaster preparedness personnel, staffing shortages, and a lack of communication among disaster response agencies, particularly at the federal level. CONCLUSIONS: There appear to be significant gaps in pandemic influenza and other infectious disease outbreak planning among the hospitals where ACEP DMS members work. This may reflect a broader underlying inadequacy of preparedness measures.
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