City’s medical emergency response shows ‘deficiencies’

Following a catastrophic event, The City could treat 5,000 injured people, but not in hospital beds and not with enough nurses, doctors and medical supplies, Director of Public Health Mitchell Katz said Friday in response to a report showing “major deficiencies” in medical emergency planning.

Following a major earthquake or terrorist attack, area hospitals would have to turn away the injured, according to a county Civil Grand Jury report.

But Katz said The City could treat them “in open areas using tents” while dipping into a number of pharmaceutical caches located around The City. It’s not realistic to have enough hospital beds to treat victims of a catastrophic event, he said.

The report, released Friday, says The City could do better when it comes to planning, organization, communications and surge capacity. It follows last week’s scathing city audit questioning the Office of Emergency Services’ ability to respond to a major disaster, all while experts predict a major quake by 2032.

“We are much better prepared than we were five years ago,” Katz said, adding, “I think the department is reasonably prepared, but it could be better.”

The report recommends The City hire a medical emergency expert and conduct annual citywide medical emergency drills.

The report also shows the private sector is not involved in The City’s emergency planning, although it represents 80 percent of the hospital care in The City.

Katz acknowledged there is a need to communicate better with the private sector. “If they don’t feel a part of it then we are missing something,” Katz said.

The last time the grand jury examined The City’s emergency preparedness was in 2002.

Katz downplayed the urgency of the findings in this 2006 report. “I don’t read this as an incredibly damning report. I see it has having some good suggestions,” he said.

Three days before the release of the report Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a directive to The City’s emergency response departments “to focus their efforts in order to ensure that the health and medical needs continue to receive the highest priority in this administration.”

The directive included setting up a working-group to address such things as how to evacuate The City. Newsom will formally respond to the grand jury within 60 days.

“It was worse than I knew it was. It was quite a revelation,” said juror Beate Boultinghouse. “Hopefully within the next year we can be in a better position to take care of the people of San Francisco.”

The report emphasizes the need for more public outreach by “beefing up” The City’s emergency Web site and stressing the importance of stocking up supplies. “You have to be prepared to take care of yourselves,” said juror Joan Trauner.

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

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