Thursday, June 02, 2005

Miserable failure

Canada has had frontline experience with SARS, is smaller and less densely populated than the US, has a national health system and has been preparing for an influenza pandemic. Thus this is pretty sobering:
Canada's health-care system would probably collapse during a flu pandemic because of a serious lack of front-line planning, emergency medicine experts said Tuesday.

"What's at stake is nothing short of chaos," said Dr. Louis Francescutti, director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, who acted as moderator of a panel that included doctors from the United States, Mexico and Britain at the annual convention of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians. (Jim McDonald, Canadian Press via News)
Asserting that "SARS wasn't even a dress rehearsal" Francescutti predicted the health-care system would slowly collapse. His view was echoed by Dr. Matthew Cooke, an advisor to the UK, another government that has done considerably more advanced planning than the US:
"We're talking about 25 per cent of . . . staff being off sick and a doubling of patient numbers. And from what I've heard, Canada already has a really big issue with overcrowding in emergency departments."
One of the major problems is that the rank and file health care worker is neither prepared nor informed about what to do. And the problem is worse in the US:
In general, the panellists agreed that preparation for a widespread flu outbreak needs to be greatly hastened in Canada, Britain and Mexico, and that there really hasn't been much planning in the United States.

"Even after watching Canada deal heroically and effectively with SARS . . . we still didn't get it in the U.S.," said Dr. Art Kellermann, chairman of emergency medicine at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta.

"When I look at our level of preparedness in the United States, what I come away with is we'd better pray it doesn't happen, he said.

"Plans are half-baked. We've known about this threat for years. We really now have very little time to be able to cope with this in an appropriate manner."
Since I don't believe in the efficacy of prayer, maybe a good first step would be to replace the leadership of the US federal health establishment, who, to use a phrase from the last election, has been a miserable failure with respect to preparing the country for the most foreseeable, palpable and dangerous public health threat in decades.