Quarter of Ontario hospitals not prepared for pandemic, report says

A Queen's University study has revealed that one quarter of Ontario, Canada hospitals do not currently have pandemic plans in place and few have tested existing plans.

The study also showed that funding for pandemic preparedness was inadequate and that players who should be key in developing the plans were not involved.

"It's not good enough just to have a plan, you have to test it. You have to know how well it will work in an emergency," Dick Zoutman, a Queen's professor of community health and epidemiology and the lead researcher on the study, told ScienceDaily. "The number should be 100 percent tested. I'm surprised and concerned we aren't there already in the face of SARS and bird flu."

The February issue of the American Journal of Infection Control published the findings of the study, which showed that small and rural hospitals are less likely to have tested pandemic plans. This lack of testing, the study says, is a result of smaller staffs that are required to perform multiple duties and do not necessarily have pandemic exercise.

"You have to look at staffing levels, supply chain - everything from the basement to the ceiling," Dr. Zoutman told ScienceDaily. "It's like planning a wedding, except you don't know the date, who the bride and groom are, what is to be served at dinner and you have to keep the flowers fresh for when the big day happens."

Dr. Zoutman called for more funding for smaller hospitals to prepare pandemic plans.

The Charge Foundation, an independent charitable foundation established by the Ontario Hospital Association, funded the study.