Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 5:
“Preparedness Across the Nation: Massachusetts Public Health Association Addresses Pandemic Flu”

 

Narrator: The American Public Health Association recently interviewed Geoff Wilkinson, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, about their state and local efforts on pandemic flu preparedness.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association has a history of lobbying to increase funding for immunizations in the state’s public health budget. With the media attention on pandemic flu and budget cuts for the flu vaccine, MPHA hosted an educational forum linking pandemic flu and immunizations for state legislators and their aides. Since then, they’ve conducted a variety of activities around pandemic flu, including legislative advocacy, media advocacy and forums with local health officials.

Wilkinson discussed the biggest challenges to preparedness that local health officials face.

Wilkinson : “Local health officials have had concerns in three major areas. One has to do with the resources that they need for planning. Second is operational details: how the national strategic stockpile is going to be distributed, how if the state buys special hospital beds and other ventilators and equipment to deal with surge needs if hospital ERs were closed, how would that be coordinated with local public health, and I think a third major area of concern has to do with coordination with public safety and hospital and health providers.

In most cases, local officials haven’t had the resources to do planning for the entirety of the population and so they haven’t had time to deal with the special needs of particularly vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, these are the very same people who in many cases are affected by other health disparities that are ravaging the society so I think there’s a very real danger that the people who are faring worst now are most at risk and are most likely to be neglected in a pandemic flu.”

Narrator: Getting funds and resources into the hand of local health officials has been a top legislative priority for MPHA. They’ve also mobilized and advocated with local health officials to influence and to ensure local concurrence on the state’s proposal to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how to use federal preparedness funds.

To explore planning for the special populations such as those who are aging or have disabilities or chronic health conditions, MPHA has held four forums throughout the state with state and local health officials as well as community representatives.

Wilkinson added that another key component to preparedness is good communication and collaboration between state and local officials, health care providers, public health workers, and community leaders and organizations. To this extent, preparing for pandemic flu has the potential to strengthen overall public health activities through improved health information and communication systems and increased technological capacity of health departments.

When asked what it will mean for the health of Americans if our national leaders do not follow through on their commitment to pandemic flu preparedness, Wilkinson warned,

Wilkinson : “That will mean that we’ll have a lot of unnecessary deaths, we’ll have a lot of unnecessary hospitalizations, we’ll have a lot of unnecessary costs to the health care system, a lot of disarray and a lot of mess to clean up afterwards with the recriminations of serious answers to how the health care, political and public health systems, as people try to make sense of what might have been prevented. We have the opportunity now to minimize the impact, hopefully, of pandemic flu. If we don’t take the opportunity now, shame on us.”

Narrator: For more information on pandemic flu and how you can be prepared, visit the Get Ready campaign Web site at www.getreadyforflu.org.