Pandemic Flu: Are hospitals prepared?

Toby Clairmont
Toby Clairmont

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - When the next flu pandemic hits, a 2007 report by Trust for America's Health shows 10,000 people in Hawaii could die, and 365,000 people could get sick. That's more than the population of the Big Island and Maui combined.

Are hospitals ready for an outbreak?

Hospitals in Hawaii have tag-teamed to put together an emergency plan, which includes having seven stockpiles of medical supplies and equipment, hidden in highly secure areas across the state.

The largest stockpile of them all is a secret warehouse, two-years-young, filled with $2 million worth of medical supplies and equipment, including items you see in movies.

"We have respirators here that can completely contain a person," said Toby Clairmont, the Emergency Services Director for the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

There's enough emergency items to last eight weeks, including hand-powered manual respirators.

"In a pandemic, one of the things we could experience is problems with breathing," said Clairmont.

There are also protective suits, gloves, goggles, and special masks.

"If it's fitted properly you have no air seeping through the sides. 95% of all the air that's coming through that respirator when you take a breath is being filtered out," said Clairmont.

Hawaii has 25,000 healthcare workers, but there are enough suits and respirators stockpiled for 50,000.

Clairmont says that's more per capita than any other state.

"We also have some of the things that most people don't like to talk about, supplies to care for mass fatalities. We have 1,000 body bags," he said.

"We also have things as simple as diapers," said Clairmont.

This stockpile is part of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii's Emergency Management Program.

If an outbreak hits, teams are out the door in four hours, portable hospitals, ready to go in 12 hours, and bulk supplies, distributed to any part of the state within 24 hours.

It's timing that's critical during a pandemic, or any other disaster.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii is a non-profit, with 97 members, from hospitals to nursing homes.

It runs purely on hospital and federal dollars.

It also has a hidden stockpile of anti-viral drugs to treat pandemic flu.