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Wednesday, December 8th, 2021

Johns Hopkins doctor calls for hospital funding for coronavirus, pandemics

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Dr. Eric Toner, a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in its Bloomberg School of Public Health, argued in a op-ed in The Hill on Wednesday, Feb. 5 that as the world looks at a potential pandemic, the U.S. needs to prepare, and to do so, it needs to guarantee funding for its hospitals.

The culprit: the novel coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV.

“To be adequately prepared, hospitals need to undertake a myriad of activities now that will take considerable time and effort,” Toner wrote. “To do this, hospitals will require additional funding. Congress should appropriate additional funding soon to the Department of Health and Human Services’s Hospital Preparedness Program.”

That funding, he said, should be used to implement hospitals’ existing pandemic influenza plans — and to update them, if necessary. Re-education of staff, updated training on infection control procedures and personal protection equipment, and guarantees of a multidisciplinary team working in concert with one another were among his recommendations. Prioritization of resources would become paramount for hospital leaders, as well as collaboration — and to that end, Toner urged hospitals to get in contact with their local health care coalitions and health departments and get to work.

The fact that this virus has erupted when hospitals are already dealing with a fairly intense influenza season makes funding support all the more important, Toner noted. He also drew comparisons to SARS, exposing key differences between it and 2019-nCoV. That virus was contained within five months, he pointed out, thanks to relatively little community spread.

“Unfortunately, however, with this new 2019 coronavirus, there appears to be widespread community transmission in China,” Toner said. “Most cases appear to be clinically mild, essentially like the common cold or influenza, but contagious. On the one hand, this is good news; the case fatality ratio is certainly much less than with SARS, which was approximately 10 percent. On the other hand, the fact that it is spreading efficiently in the community means that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to stop. At this point, this virus resembles influenza in its epidemiology. We can anticipate many mild infections but also some severe and even fatal cases that could further stress our already over-stressed emergency departments and intensive care units.”

And Toner ended with both a warning and the offer of an opportunity.

“Pandemic readiness for health care facilities is too hard and complex to invent on the fly,” Toner said. “Facilities that do not prepare in advance will suffer more than those that do. Congress has the opportunity now to give them a fighting chance through additional funding to improve hospital readiness for this current outbreak.”