Flu Pandemic Prep: What Your Facility Needs to Know Now

Matt Phillion, for HealthLeaders Media , July 10, 2009

It seems like potential pandemics these days require an animal in the title—especially if the word "flu" is involved. But influenza pandemics are no laughing matter, and, with swine flu still on everyone's mind, facilities need to ask: Are we ready for the next pandemic?

Elizabeth Di Giacomo-Geffers, RN, MPH, CSHA, a healthcare consultant in Trabuco Canyon, CA, and former Joint Commission surveyor and columnist for Briefings on The Joint Commission, points out that several federal agencies have offered guidelines to prepare for a potential outbreak.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released a number of guidelines for facilities to prepare for a pandemic. HHS warns that, when a pandemic virus strain emerges, somewhere between 25% and 30% of the population could develop the disease. Certain things can be assumed during a pandemic, says the HHS:

  • Pandemic flu susceptibility will be universal.
  • Illnesses will be highest among school-aged children—in the 40% range—and decline with age
  • Of those infected, half will seek outpatient care
  • The number of hospitalizations and deaths is difficult to predict—based on the virulence of the virus, the estimates range widely

Hospital discharge
The CDC has issued guidance for discharging patients with H1N1 influenza. The local department of health should be notified within 24 hours prior to discharging a patient with the virus, or if a patient leaves the hospital against medical advice. (More information on this can be found at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance_homecare.htm.)

The CDPH states that patients in an acute care facility who are either confirmed or probable cases of H1N1 should not be transferred to long-term healthcare facilities until seven days after the onset of the illness (or their acute symptoms have been resolved). If the long-term healthcare facility is capable of handling the appropriate infection control steps, transferring the patient is acceptable.

Matt Phillion, CSHA, is senior managing editor of Briefings on The Joint Commission and senior editorial advisor for the Association for Healthcare Accreditation Professionals (AHAP).

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