Most hospitals ill-prepared to deal with bioterrorism

In spite of heightened awareness of bioterrorism, and the recent terrorist threat to hospitals in key U.S. cities, 70% of hospital emergency depart- ment (ED) managers polled at a recent conference revealed that their hospitals are not prepared to deal with bioterrorist-related medical emergencies. More than 90% of poll respondents cited patient violence as the greatest threat to ED personnel, says Jeanne McGrayne, RN, MSN, director of VHA’s sonsulting services.

"This is the second consecutive year that conference attendees have reported patient violence as the No. 1 threat to personal safety in the emergency departments, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and recent threats against hospitals," McGrayne says. "It’s clear that despite concerns about bioterrorism, the major threat to personnel continues to be violence in the emergency department."

Leaders in emergency medicine from 73 health care organizations nationwide gathered recently for VHA Inc.’s Emergency Department Conference in Chicago. Attendees at the fourth annual event explored trends in emergency department care and learned how to improve patient care and customer service in their organizations. Of the more than 100 professionals in attendance, 74 responded to the poll. The results of the poll revealed that 66% of respondents saw the risk of contracting hepatitis C as the second-biggest threat to ED personnel. Thirty-two percent of those polled said the lack of acute and critical care beds to which ED patients can be transferred is the primary factor for overcrowding in EDs. Other reasons for overcrowding included work force and staffing issues (the primary factor for 24% of respondents) and uninsured patients using the ED for primary care (19%).

"Issues that other areas of the hospital are wrestling with are having tremendous impact on the ability to deliver care efficiently in the emergency department," McGrayne says. "Health care organizations need to address these issues before current ED problems can ultimately be resolved. The longer hospitals wait to identify resolutions, the worse hospital and ED conditions may get."