Pandemic Flu Demonstration Project
A severe pandemic will cause shortages of critical life-saving medical resources. Decisions about how to prioritize these resources—though highly controversial—are critical to maintain fairness and order in a major health emergency.
A severe pandemic would create profound impacts on the healthcare system, including likely shortages of life-sustaining medical resources. Despite these risks, most communities lack clear guidelines for rationing scarce resources in the event of a large-scale health crisis. As the H1N1 influenza epidemic and ensuing public health emergency coursed through the United States in 2009, the Seattle King County Public Health Department in Washington state called on Meridian to help develop a clear strategy and prioritization criteria that reflected community values in the event of a pandemic.
In collaboration with King County, and with support from the Center for Disease Control, Meridian provided the process expertise for a robust stakeholder engagement process focused on allocating medical resources in the event of a severe, large-scale flu pandemic. This topic is inherently sensitive and controversial, since it presupposes that we may be forced to make choices about who will have access to live-saving resources. But, as a trusted third party, Meridian was able to encourage community members to share their thoughts and make their values understood.
We planned and implemented focus groups and listening sessions with over 150 participants from all walks of life in Seattle, including sessions for Spanish-speaking populations, homeless communities, and individuals with special needs. Again and again, we heard the same message: even if it meant compromising care, the primary goal should be saving the greatest number of people. The effort demonstrated the power of community-centered dialogue to develop shared priorities in the face of challenging circumstances.
Results from the stakeholder engagement process informed county and hospital policies for allocating scarce resources in the event of a pandemic. These policies will guide the county health care system in making fair, equitable life-or-death decisions in the event of a health emergency.