Healthcare Providers Ill-Equipped to Treat Children in Disasters
This revelation comes at a time when we are facing more threats than ever, whether from natural or man-made sources. We are also supposedly more prepared than ever as a nation to cope with the aftermath of such occurrences. How our emergency managers, as well as the medical community as a whole, have somehow overlooked the needs of nearly a third of our population is simply beyond comprehension.
What lies at the center of this problem is the fact that the entire medical industry, from healthcare providers to pharmaceutical companies, have tailored disaster-relief efforts around the needs of adults very well. We have systems in place to cope with a large influx of patients at any given point in time. We have treatment protocols that spell out exactly what needs to be done under different circumstances. We have detailed plans and procedures that can be implemented at the drop of a hat in order to minimize casualties.
Whether these solutions will work in the real world has yet to be put to the test. However, at least agencies and officials are trying, and we have come a long way when compared to our complete lack of readiness when 9/11 occurred.
However, very little of these services have been designed with children in mind. Children need special medication, smaller doses and different treatment options when compared to their adult counterparts. Pediatric medicine, under the best of circumstances, is still under-served as a specialty. We lack the expertise, training and resources to fully address the unique needs and care requirements of children in a disaster scenario.
Combine all of these factors together, and chances are that if we do encounter a serious disaster that leads to the admission of thousands of patients who need immediate medical care, chances are that children will be the ones who end up suffering the most.
It’s a Numbers Game
Another big part of the problem is that children don’t get sick or require intensive medical care to the same degree as their adult counterparts. Consequently, it costs a lot of money to provide services that are, in the big scheme of things, rare by comparison. This is why EMS providers are not loaded with kid-sized supplies and equipment. This is why hospitals have a limited number of beds in units that are dedicated to treating children. This is why medications that come pre-dosed for adults need to be re-calculated and downsized to levels that are safe for children to consume.
All of this translates into a lack of preparedness that is not well-known outside of a small niche within the medical community. However, the ramifications can be wide-ranging and nothing short of devastating if and when communities are faced with a mass-casualty situation that involves a lot of pediatric patients.
Unfortunately, this leaves parents with few options. It also leaves healthcare providers shooting in the dark with respect to how to care for kids during and after a crisis.
One thing is for certain. There will be a day when disaster preparedness efforts will be tested. The question is whether or not we can get our act together fast enough to provide adequate services to pediatric patients.
This is not surprising considering that we have always been better at reacting to things as opposed to finding proactive solutions. As it stands now, we have a very long way to go, and there are no immediate signs that things will change anytime soon. Unfortunately, this will probably mean that we have to experience some sort of nightmarish situation before people will take notice and make this a priority.