Planning for the next pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has forced hospitals to rapidly retrofit their facilities, secure scarce supplies, and redeploy staff to safely care for infected patients. As the financial toll from treating COVID-19 and halting nonurgent procedures mounts, the federal government is distributing CARES Act funding to help hospitals cope with an existential financial challenge.

But as hospitals work to stay strong in unprecedented times while planning for an uncertain future, a new Health Affairs blog explores how the U.S. healthcare system at large can begin preparing for future pandemics.

The authors argue that incentives supporting pandemic preparedness could help hospitals build or redesign existing hospitals with enough surge capacity. The article explores several potential tactics for reaching that goal, including developing preparedness performance metrics tied to reimbursement, providing grants and loans to support improved infrastructure, and requiring companies that sell business interruption insurance to sell their products to hospitals. 

The article cites the example of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, which was built with a major pandemic or disaster in mind, and has the capability to double capacity during an emergency. And as hospitals cope with the challenges and aftershocks of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, the need to prepare the entire U.S. healthcare system for the next public health crisis has never been more urgent.

Facilities conversion race moves to testing

In recent weeks, hospitals and local governments have pressed hotels, convention centers and other non-healthcare facilities into serve to treat or quarantine patients with COVID-19. With experts calling for a dramatic expansion in testing to help contain the pandemic in the months to come, finding enough testing and process sites might be the next major facilities challenge facing the healthcare system.

With that in mind, Kaiser Permanente is converting a warehouse in Berkeley, Calif., into a $14 million site capable of processing 10,000 COVID-19 tests a day, up from 1,500 tests a day at present. The site, which will open June 1, is intended to serve as the system’s main testing site throughout northern California. 

In Minnesota, a new alliance between the state department of health, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and the state’s leading healthcare systems plans to test every state resident with COVID-19 symptoms. The initiative plans to leverage resources from alliance members and build enough capacity to test 20,000 Minnesotans every day.

In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday that independent pharmacies will be able to serve as testing sites moving forward, as the state looks to expand its testing criteria to include all first responders, frontline healthcare staff and essential workers.

In Brief