Disaster preparedness has been a priority in the United States and around the world since the events of September 11th, 2001. Mass casualty respiratory failure represents a serious challenge to the US healthcare system with respect to both personnel and materiel. Mass casualty respiratory failure may result from man-made or natural disasters such as explosions or earthquakes. It may also be infectious in origin resulting from man-made or naturally occurring agents such as anthrax or the recent H1N1 flu.
Public health preparedness for mass casualty respiratory failure includes surveillance and appropriate counter measures. The current H1N1 flu epidemic has resulted in small pockets of severe respiratory failure around the world. With the fall flu season of 2009 ahead of us, planning and preparation are priorities.
A major limitation in the US preparation for mass casualty respiratory failure is our inability to account for the number of ventilators currently available in US hospitals. Attempts at counting US ventilators have resulted in numbers from 65,000 to 105,000 devices.
Why is this important? As the Federal government plans for the possibility of mass casualty respiratory failure, the purchase of ventilators for the strategic national stockpile represents one countermeasure. The important question is how many ventilators are necessary? The single greatest impediment to answering this question, is not knowing how many ventilators are currently available.
The purchase of ventilators for mass casualty respiratory failure results in an approximate cost of $10,000 per device. If the estimation of ventilators is off by 10,000 devices, then an unnecessary purchase of that volume of equipment represents inappropriate allocation of $100M.
The Department of Health and Human Services has enlisted the American Association for Respiratory Care in completing what amounts to a census of ventilators in United States hospitals. The success of this project is critical in assisting the government in planning for mass casualty respiratory failure. This endeavor is a vital first step in meeting the threat of a severe fall flu season.
The AARC will be reaching out to each of you for help. As leaders of the Respiratory Care Community, your rapid, accurate, and complete response to the survey is the key to the success of the project. We are looking for one complete survey from each institution, completed by the individual with the best knowledge of the hospitals ventilator resources. Your Government has placed its trust in the AARC as the one organization with the membership and expertise to accomplish this task. The success of this project rests with each of you. The AARC and your Government are counting on you!