Lessons learned from Katrina, 9/11, SARS, and other disasters
SHUTE: I'm glad you brought up Secretary Leavitt, because first we heard from the head of HHS, who said don't look to us for help in pandemic flu; it's all local. Then we had the CEOs in major hospitals saying, wow, we're not ready. And then, it sounds like it is all devolving on folks like yourselves who are there on the front lines. What do you need besides more money?
WEISFUSE: Pandemic flu is a fascinating problem because it's not only a public health or medical problem; it's a societal problem, potentially a societal problem. So one thing we need that I think Secretary Leavitt pointed out is for everybody to take this seriously, but then realizing that there are some people who may want to take this seriously but can't or have difficulties. So I'm concerned about, for example, small business issues in New York City. I know the multinational corporations who are based in New York City have really been talking about this for a long time, and some of them have really extensive plans. But most business don't have that kind of resources behind them. And you know, issues around the vulnerable populations as we saw with Hurricane Katrina, I think we really need to move forward on that. So some of it is money; some of it is time and willpower and interest.
SHUTE: Dr. Low, you're doing a lot of work on trying to get Ontario ready for a pandemic flu. What sorts of things are you looking at there?
LOW: Well, one of the real benefits from SARS is that everybody has experienced a pandemic in Ontario, and really in Canada in some way, but especially in Ontario and especially in Toronto. And what we've seen as a result of SARS is the government's commitment to reinvest in public health, and they are doing that. In fact, legislation will be moving forward in May to create a public health agency in Ontario. There have been concerted efforts to hire staff in infection control roles within hospitals. When we do pandemic planning, people listen. We have no difficulty in having administrators listen and having people in government listen and participate, and are actually driving the process. And that is so refreshing that all of a sudden you have the ear of government. And it's not just the money, but also really the psychological support that they give you in planning like this. SARS has, I think, put us way ahead in pandemic planning and dealing with a lot of issues, because people say, you know, that's right. This is what happened to us when we had to restrict entrance to our hospitals; we had to redeploy staff; we had to close wards; we had to create isolation units. People have experience themselves, and so that has made planning much more efficient than I think it ever would have been.
SHUTE: Thank you. Ben, what do you see as a way to prepare for something that could be way more sustained than the five days you spent trapped in charity?