Friday, April 06, 2007

Health centers play a critical role in managing chronic diseases during disasters

Today's first guest blog entry is by Dan Hawkins, vice president for federal, state and public affairs with the National Association of Community Health Centers

The National Association of Community Health Centers is proud to sponsor National Public Health Week 2007. This year’s theme, "Take the First Step! Preparedness and Public Health Threats: Addressing the Unique Needs of the Nation’s Vulnerable Populations" is one of particular importance to America’s health centers and the 16 million people they serve.

Health centers have a long history of directing help where it is most needed. Because they are built from the bottom up, not the top down, and are run by patient-majority community boards, they are especially effective in targeting the immediate needs of vulnerable communities — even those challenged by disaster. A 2006 article in the journal Health Affairs noted that health centers "may well be situated in some communities to be a first line of response to public health emergencies." That's because they have the existing networks on the ground to facilitate outreach to diverse populations and cultures.

We may not know when the next disaster will strike, but what we do know is that it is often the poor and the most vulnerable who are disproportionately affected because they lack the resources, and even the transportation, to flee disaster zones. Nowhere was the divide between the haves and have-nots more evident than in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Indeed, the lessons of Katrina have rewritten the conventional rules of disaster response for the future. The most startling lesson is that the most pressing and immediate needs of the evacuee population were not for emergency triage, but for primary health care services. In fact, a recent report, "Legacy of a Disaster: Health Centers and Hurricane Katrina," revealed that many of the evacuees required treatment for chronic diseases, such as diabetes or hypertension, that had worsened because the evacuees had fled their homes without their medications. Many people did not know where to get help and communications problems on the ground added to the challenge of providing help and treatment.

Community outreach in times of disaster is a critical step in a national disaster response plan. Health centers stand ready to help local public health and emergency preparedness leaders spread the word about the importance of disaster preparedness in every community.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, I have a community health center in my area and I didn't realize the role they play in preparedness. This was very educational for me.

janet said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts.