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US Hospitals not prepared for the next pandemic or crisis, study says

A new index of preparedness suggests U.S. hospitals have improved surge capacity over a 10-year stretch, but it's not enough.

WASHINGTON — A new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests hospitals still aren't ready for the next pandemic, terrorist attack or natural disaster. 

The report finds hospitals may have improved their surge capacity over a 10- year time span, but it might not be enough. Almost from the start of the pandemic, officials said hospitals in New York were overwhelmed by a surge of patients. 

"The assumption that if you get sick we're going to have a hospital bed for you is a false assumption," one New York doctor said in April 2020.

Now, researchers at the University of Maryland have developed an index to rate hospitals on their readiness, called the Hospital Medical Surge Preparedness Index. 

"Our scores indicate we've improved," said David Marcozzi, the article's chief author, as well as the chief clinical officer at the University of Maryland Medical System and senior medical advisor to the governor for COVID-19.

Marcozzi said hospitals need to do more to get ready for what the World Health Organization calls "Disease X," the next big pathogen. 

"If we receive our ball on our own 10-yard line and we advance to our 30-yard line, that's an improvement, but we still have a long way to go," he said.

The study looked at hospitals during more normal times -- between 2005 and 2014 -- rating them on their supplies, their staff levels, their space and the systems that allow them to bring all that together. Marcozzi calls it "the four S's."

Those four S's give hospitals the capacity to handle a surge in patients from a pandemic, a hurricane, or a mass shooting.

"Whether it's a shooting or a pandemic, we'll be better prepared if we better understand where we are and what we need to do to fill the gaps," Marcozzi said.

He said the next step is to look at the same hospital preparedness metrics during the pandemic and see whether better-prepared hospitals were able to save more lives.

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