Gary Oxman, MD, MPH
Kathryn Richer, MA
During Wednesday’s session, “Incorporating Ethics into Emergency Planning and Response to Ensure Health Equity,” health officers and emergency planners from the Multnomah County Health Department in Oregon, discussed how they successfully created a program that allowed underinsured individuals to access vaccination and emergency care services during the H1N1 influenza pandemic. They based their community outreach program on the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Health Security Strategy that says, “information disseminated to the public must account for language and cultural differences…”
Likewise, the presenters hosted focus groups for specific ethnic and cultural groups to promote influenza healthcare services. For example, health officials organized “African-American Community Dialogues,” or sessions that provided vaccination information and addressed ongoing racial health care inequities in the African-American community. Shortly after the public information seminar, vaccinations were provided to interested individuals.
Additionally, planners organized free clinics to provide vaccination and flu-care services, and set up a hotline so concerned individuals could ask questions. The presenters hoped that providing accessible services would minimize the economic and health-related impacts of community members. However, throughout the presentation, the speakers emphasized that services were not organized around political motivations, but rather ethical and moral principles. Presenters said that effectively implementing a free public health service was dependent upon following a specific set of established ethical guidelines prior to organization planning, such as drafting specific ethical frameworks ahead of time. This made the task of deciding who and where the majority of the services would go to first, less complicated.
Acknowledging that children and older individuals were more vulnerable to the illness helped health officials make swift decisions on who should get an antiviral treatment first in case of a shortage.
Lastly, the presenters said they based their ethics framework on four key elements: common good, protecting the well-being of the entire population; justice, providing equal treatment to all community members insured or not; prudence, using expert advice to guide the response strategy; and respect, maintaining the dignity of the individual being treated. Organizers said that adequately accounting for all four key elements yielded a smooth, influenza prevention and control program.
To access Wednesday’s full presentation, please visit www.phprep.org/2011/Agenda/upload/B-09-Incorporating-Ethics-into-Emergency-Planning-and-Response-to-Ensure-Health-Equity.pdf.
Robyn Abree is a graduate student at the University of Georgia pursuing her master’s degree in Health and Medical Journalism.