Plans take initiative in disaster planning through partnerships (More from Disease Management, July 2006)

July 1, 2006

Some health plans are partnering with public health departments and statewide services to develop disaster plan to help avert the potential catastrophic effects of a flu pandemic. As an integrated delivery system, SelectHealth in Salt Lake City is working with the Utah Department of Health, which developed the Utah Pandemic Influenza Response, a preparedness plan in coordination with efforts by WHO and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The state's primary goals are to minimize serious illness and deaths, societal disruption and economic loss.

Some health plans are partnering with public health departments and statewide services to develop disaster plan to help avert the potential catastrophic effects of a flu pandemic. As an integrated delivery system, SelectHealth in Salt Lake City is working with the Utah Department of Health, which developed the Utah Pandemic Influenza Response, a preparedness plan in coordination with efforts by WHO and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The state's primary goals are to minimize serious illness and deaths, societal disruption and economic loss.

Kenneth Schaecher, MD, medical director for utilization management, says that SelectHealth is not worried about a possible flu pandemic but also does not want to wait too long to put a plan into place. "We want to ensure that we have the ability to perform operations and continue workflow, appropriately revise drug reimbursement of necessary drugs, make provisions for potential shortages of drugs and account for the needs of our members," he says. "We cannot afford to disrupt our services so we need to put an infrastructure in place to handle a disaster."

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, serving 3 million members, is coordinating its efforts with the Tennessee Department of Health, which created action guidelines in 2003 with an emphasis on vaccination. The insurer is also taking advantage of preparedness efforts by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Assn. "The federal government has learned lessons from [Hurricane] Katrina," says Inga Himelright, a regional medical director for the health plan headquartered in Chattanooga. "It takes individual and community preparation."

The disaster plan, which is currently being developed, will assess the impact of the pandemic on members, address the problems related to a substantially reduced workforce, educate the public, create policies to ensure that business operations continue and maintain relationships with the provider community.

Although cases of the avian flu have been reported since 1997, Dr. Himelright admits that plans have been slow to rise to the occasion but emphasizes the need to take action before fear takes over.