Busy flu season sparks new concerns about healthcare system, country's preparedness questioned

CLEVELAND -

The nation’s preparedness to handle a major flu outbreak or disaster is now being called into question.

"The hospitals are full. There is flu everywhere," said Beth Gatlin, the Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Center for Health Affairs.

She says the spike in illness is putting a strain on hospitals.

"It's a difficult road for them," Gatlin said.

Her job is to make sure hospitals are ready to respond to any type of turmoil, whether they're natural or manmade disasters.

"Preparedness is 'what if?' We need to prepare, we need to plan," said Gatlin.

Of course, that takes money.

"Preparedness funding has actually decreased about 50% for hospitals over the last seven or eight years," said Gatlin.

That's making it more challenging to respond to a full-scale emergency or a major flu outbreak.

"With that decrease in funding, it's really tight to maintain the equipment that they purchased," said Gatlin.

Equipment that could also be hard to get in an emergency.

"You can run short, very quickly, of those critical products and services that are required to provide the patient care," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

That's because most of the drugs and medical devices used in emergency rooms come from countries overseas with virtually no stockpiles here in the U.S.

"We've really set ourselves up for a very, very serious situation," said Osterholm. "I'm afraid that this could be the worst mistake here with the flu."

Osterholm points to Puerto Rico as a perfect example of what can happen when a natural disaster or health pandemic shuts down production of life-saving products.

“With the fall hurricanes we experienced, we're now seeing that very, very major problem, because over 60% of all IV bags we use in medical around the world are made in Puerto Rico," said Osterholm.

Osterholm worries not enough is being done to address shortcomings in the health care system, which leaves us all at risk.

"How many times do we actually go out on the street and try to purchase a firetruck when the 9-1-1 call comes in - of course not. When it's needed, if we don't have it, we're in big trouble," said Osterholm.

A new report just released shows 94 of the drugs most commonly used in emergency rooms are in short supply or not available.

Osterholm tells News 5, in a major flu outbreak or worldwide pandemic, that could spell disaster.

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