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On July 1, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it has awarded more than $840 million in disaster preparedness grants to health systems and to state and local public health departments.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that’s $76 million less than HHS awarded last year. And the biggest cut was to the program that funds hospitals.
The $840 million figure combines the amounts of grant funds distributed through two programs – the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), which is administered by the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program (PHEP), which is administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
PHEP funding, which – according to the HHS news release – is “used to advance public health preparedness and response capabilities at the state and local level,” amounted to $611.75 million this year. That’s actually an increase from the $584 million PHEP awarded last year.
The Hospital Preparedness Program, on the other hand, fared much less well, dropping from $332 million awarded in 2013 to $228.5 million this year. (The 2013 numbers are from this year-old HHS news release.)
If there’s a good reason for health departments to get an increase while the funding awards for the hospital program are slashed by nearly a third, I certainly can’t figure it out.
According to HHS, “HPP funding supports building sustainable community health care coalitions that collaborate on emergency planning and, during disasters[,] share resources and partner to meet the health and medical needs of their community.” Sounds like a worthy goal to me – so why is PHEP getting more love?
I’m not suggesting PHEP should be funded any less. State and local health departments play a crucial role in emergency response, and they deserve every cent they’re getting. I’m saying that of all the areas in the federal government that could stand some fiscal trimming, disaster preparedness at our nation’s hospitals and health systems is emphatically not among them.
Nicole Lurie, MD, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, is entirely correct when she says in the HHS news release, “Community and state preparedness is essential to the health security of all Americans. Events in the last few years have demonstrated how critical it is for health systems across the country to be ready and able to respond quickly and effectively.”
By the way, California came out the biggest winner in funding for fiscal 2014, with more than $23 million from HPP and more than $42 million from PHEP. You can find the full list of states, metropolitan areas, and U.S. territories that received funding awards (and how much) here.