Report Urges Congress to Address Children's Health Care Needs in Planning for Pandemics, Disasters

Report Urges Congress to Address Children's Health Care Needs in Planning for Pandemics, Disasters

With the pending reauthorization of the PAHPA, CHA is calling on policymakers to take action to address children’s unique needs during a pandemic or other public health emergencies.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) urges Congress and the Administration to address the unique physical and mental health needs of children in future pandemic and disaster planning after a recent spate of public health crises which exposed critical gaps in care and stretched the pediatric workforce, medications and supplies to a breaking point.   

CHA, which represents more than 200 children’s hospitals across the country, will host a Capitol Hill event today highlighting the unique pediatric medical devices and supplies that are used during pandemics and disease surges, as Congress considers reauthorizing the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which is slated to expire on September 30, 2023. CHA also released a report entitled, Children’s Health Care Needs in a Pandemic, Disaster or Public Health Emergency: A National Blueprint for Pediatric-Specific Readiness, that provides recommendations on how to ensure children’s physical and mental health care needs are considered in future planning for pandemics and disasters. 

Children’s hospitals experienced unprecedented pediatric visits during ‘The Tripledemic’ of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, and COVID-19 cases, which was heightened by the ongoing children’s mental health crisis.  

“Children and youth represent nearly 25% of the U.S. population. Their physical and mental health needs and the delivery system to meet them differs significantly from those of adults,” says Amy Wimpey Knight, President of CHA. “As we plan for future pandemics and disasters, we must ensure that children, youth and their unique needs are kept front and center so they may have access to necessary resources in times of crises.”  

With the pending reauthorization of the PAHPA, CHA is calling on policymakers to take action in four key areas to address children’s unique needs during a pandemic or other public health emergencies:

  1. Strengthen the national pediatric disaster and pandemic response infrastructure.  
  2. Invest in the growth of the pediatric workforce to prevent future shortages.
  3. Bolster rapid medical countermeasure (MCM) response and access to pediatric medical supplies and equipment within the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). 
  4. Ensure timely access to pediatric mental health care during pandemics and public health emergencies.  

CHA partnered with FTI Consulting to survey children’s hospital experts to better understand the challenges children’s hospitals have faced in delivering care during past pandemics and disasters. Some key highlights from the survey include:  

  • Workforce shortages were the top challenge for children’s hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic and RSV surges, with 91% of respondents citing shortages of nurses, 79% citing shortages of respiratory therapists and 77%, mental health providers.   
  • Medication and related supply shortages were the second most common challenge children’s hospitals faced, with 63% of respondents saying pediatric-specific supplies ran critically low, and measures to alleviate supply shortages were insufficient and geared toward adults.
  • Of particular concern was that the mental health of both children and health care providers was overlooked, with 86% of respondents citing boarding (when a patient cannot be sent home from the emergency department (ED) or transferred to another facility for further treatment because there are no available beds, so they must wait in the ED for an unspecified amount of time) as a key challenge in delivering mental health care, and 84% saying workforce shortages impacted the delivery of pediatric mental health care during the COVID-19 and RSV surges. 

“Children and youth are not an afterthought and should be included in all aspects of disaster planning, period,” says Knight. “We urge the federal government to use the recent learnings to inform the development of a national disaster and pandemic response infrastructure that meets the unique physical, mental, developmental, and social needs of all children.” 

Additional resources on child-appropriate disaster and pandemic responses can be found here.

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Children’s Hospital Association is the national voice of more than 200 children’s hospitals, advancing child health through innovation in the quality, cost and delivery of care.