Monday, June 24, 2024

UNMC gets federal grant to lead effort to design better response to national health disasters

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OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) – With a boost of federal funds, the University of Nebraska Medical Center will help lead development of a new national planning approach to responding to large-scale health crises.

UNMC officials on Thursday announced the effort to be launched with an initial $500,000 from the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health, whose mission is to advance the nation’s public health readiness for disasters.

The medical center and its main clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine, are to convene federal agencies and others across academia and industry to develop a more proactive plan, based on worst case and large-scale scenarios, for meeting medical and public health requirements during national emergencies.

Such plans will reduce the need to “build on the fly” — an approach used during the COVID-19 pandemic to quickly adapt to growing needs and hospital space crunches on an ad hoc basis, said Lauren Sauer, associate director of research in the UNMC Global Center for Health Security.

Any new approach, she said, will identify unconstrained solutions and define courses of action. It will recognize that, as history has shown, rules don’t always apply during catastrophic events.

“A national plan that reflects this reality will enable us to identify and adopt opportunities for how we can more effectively respond in moments of crisis when minutes count,” said Sauer. “As a nation, we must develop the ability to ‘build on the fly — by design.’ “

Development of a more dynamic plan for health crises is part of ongoing efforts to fortify the National Disaster Medical System, which Congress established to provide care for U.S. military casualties during the height of the Cold War.

According to UNMC, Congress in 2020 recognized that system’s limited ability to respond to large-scale catastrophes and directed the Department of Defense to conduct a five-year pilot program to improve it.

Lessons were learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, Sauer said. “We did a lot of things on the fly and now recognize the need for a proactive plan for when things are outside the norm.”

The new approach will consider a range of things, UNMC officials said, including ways to rapidly develop and deploy therapeutics and options to quickly hire, train and retain more clinical staff, especially when the types of licensed professionals are unavailable.

“In the most severe of health crises, the standard approach to response will not succeed,” said Jeffrey Freeman, director of the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.  “We have to be ready to operate in an environment where rules may not apply and the mission is paramount.”

Chris Kratochvil, UNMC vice president, said the project “fits squarely” with the work of the medical center’s Global Center for Health Security mission and UNMC’s commitment to national preparedness.

Said Freeman: “From Ebola to COVID-19, UNMC has effectively delivered the cutting edge in science and technology to the leading edge of some of our nation’s greatest challenges, and we are confident they’ll do the same in this national effort.”

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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