FAQ – What is Healthcare Emergency Management?

Who are Healthcare Emergency Managers?

Healthcare Emergency Managers are professionals in the medical, public health and public safety community who staff positions in such places as community health centers, local hospitals, local city and county boards and councils, and within local, state, and federal public safety and homeland security offices.

What do Healthcare Emergency Managers do?

A Healthcare Emergency Manager (HEM) assists State and local governments in identifying and meeting the health and medical needs of victims of a major disaster, or catastrophic incidents.  Incorporating the disaster lifecycle, HEM encompasses planning for, responding to, recovering from, and developing ways of mitigating:

  • Radiological, chemical, biological, and natural hazards
  • Overall public health and medical response; triage, treatment, and transportation of victims of the disaster; and
  • Emergency services personnel health & safety

What are Disasters?  What do they mean for Healthcare Emergency Managers?

A significant natural disaster or man-made event that overwhelms the affected region would necessitate both Federal public health and medical care assistance.  Hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory care centers, pharmacies, and other facilities for medical/health care and special needs populations may be severely structurally damaged or destroyed at worst or simply overwhelmed by volume at best.  Facilities that survive with little or no structural damage may be rendered unusable or only partially usable because of a lack of utilities (power, water, sewer) or because staff are unable to report for duty as a result of personal injuries and/or damage/disruption of communications and transportation systems.  Medical and health care facilities that remain in operation and have the necessary utilities and staff will probably be overwhelmed by patients ranging from the “walking wounded” to the seriously injured victims who may be transported there in the immediate aftermath of the occurrence.

In the face of massive increases in demand and the damage sustained, medical supplies (including pharmaceuticals) and equipment will probably be in short supply.  (Most health care facilities usually maintain only a small inventory stock to meet their short-term, normal patient load needs.)  Disruptions in local communications and transportation systems could also prevent timely re-supply.

Healthcare Emergency Managers work to meet the public health and medical needs of those affected by disaster and resolve the impacts that they impose.

Who contacts the HEM person? Who are they responsible to?

Initial coordination is performed in conjunction with Local and State public safety and public health officials to respond to crisis.  When emergency situations escalate to the point that they become declared a major disaster the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) assumes the role as primary agency and assembles their Emergency Operations Center to coordinate federal health and medical response.

In the United States, the process for crisis and disaster coordination is accomplished under the National Response Framework (NRF) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS).  As a means to provide structure for coordinating interagency support for a Federal response to an incident, specific Emergency Support Functions (ESF) have been developed.  ESF #8 – Public Health and Medical Services is the federal coordinating process for Healthcare Emergency Managers. The ESF system are mechanisms for grouping functions most frequently used to provide Federal support to States and Federal-to-Federal support, both for declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act and for non-Stafford Act incidents.   The Incident Command System provides for the flexibility to assign ESF and other stakeholder resources according to their capabilities, taskings, and requirements.