Healthcare

Partners in Preparedness: Close to 2000 Attendees at Public Health Preparedness Summit

by Jack Herrmann

Almost 2,000 public health preparedness and emergency management professionals, including the nation’s leading public health officials, convened in Atlanta last month for the fifth annual Public Health Preparedness Summit. The huge number of attendees was a testament to the desire and need of those participating to truly be partners in preparedness. The Summit attendees represented all facets of the nation’s healthcare communities, including: local, state, and tribal public health leaders; senior leaders from federal government agencies and organizations; and a broad spectrum of working professionals from private industry, academia, and community organizations. These practitioners, who represent the spectrum of emergency preparedness and response, met to work toward the common vision of safer, healthier, and more resilient communities.

The 2010 Summit offered an impressive lineup of the nation’s public health leaders and decision makers – beginning with Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Following an introduction by Dr. Thomas Friedan, director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Secretary Sebelius spoke of the valuable lessons learned by the public health community in dealing with the H1N1 influenza pandemic, which put additional pressure on a strained system that had already been reeling in the wake of budget cuts and employee layoffs. Nonetheless, Sebelius said, H1N1 “confirmed that continuing to reduce our state and local public health infrastructure is a formula for disaster.”

Despite the problems it caused, she continued, the H1N1 pandemic “brought about many innovations in our nation’s response, including partnerships with the education, business, and medical industries – and with state, local, tribal, and territorial public health officials.

“ … What we also saw with H1N1,” Sebelius continued, “was that these partnerships pay off.  When we spoke with one voice, our message was clearer.  When we responded together, our efforts were more effective.”

Lurie, Jones, and an All-Star Panel of Distinguished Speakers Following Sebelius’s opening remarks, Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, moderated a line-up of distinguished panelists including Carter Mecher, director of Medical Preparedness Policy for the White House; Stephen C. Redd, director of the Influenza Coordination Unit with the CDC; Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; and Bruce Dart, president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Reflecting on their respective organizations’ responses to H1N1, the panelists shared their perspectives on the value of using humility, communications, and collaboration as tools to craft a successful response. “No one agency can work alone,” said Dart. The sharing of resources, data, and communications, he said, helped health departments at all levels of government, and in the private sector, work more closely with one another, and with federal agencies, to adjust quickly to unexpected changes and challenges during the course of the H1N1 pandemic.

The concepts of partnership and collaboration continued throughout the remainder of the16-19 February Summit. Several sessions focused on the need to establish robust relationships among and between the numerous partners and stakeholders usually involved – at different levels, and in different ways. In addition, many speakers emphasized the importance of strengthening the collaborations that were established both before and during the H1N1 response. According to keynote speaker Ana-Marie Jones – the executive director of Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters – the most critical steps for a successful collaboration are co-existence, commitment beyond the grant, and communications, cooperation, and coordination. Among the many issues to be considered along the path to a successful collaboration, she continued, are change, costs, capacity, credibility, culture clash, comfort zones, and competition. Jones advised the Summit attendees to: (a) honor natural existing and chosen associations; (b) protect partners from bureaucracy; (c) take advantage of technology; and (d) embrace the “social media” to help the partnership efforts succeed.

In addition to the panel discussions and numerous high-level speakers participating, the 2010 Summit offered an extraordinary agenda filled with hundreds of interactive sessions, skills-building workshops, sharing sessions, poster presentations, and networking opportunities. Today, although the Summit may be over, the content remains available for review. Those who could not attend, or could not attend all of the sessions, should visit www.phprep.org to download session materials.

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Notes: (1) For a more detailed summary of events, also read the Summit blog, SummitUp, at http://phprep.wordpress.com.

(2) Planning is already underway for the 2011 Public Health Preparedness Summit, which is scheduled for 22-25 February 2011, in Atlanta. 

(3) The annual Public Health Preparedness Summit is a partnership between the following organizations: the Association of Public Health Laboratories; the Association of Schools of Public Health; the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; the National Association of County and City Health Officials; the National Emergency Management Association; and the Medical Reserve Corps.