Background: Coordination and communication among community partners-including health departments, emergency management agencies, and hospitals-are essential for effective pandemic influenza planning and response. As the nation's largest integrated health care system, the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could be a key component of community planning.
Purpose: To identify issues relevant to VA-community pandemic influenza preparedness.
Methods: As part of a VA-community planning process, we developed and pilot-tested a series of tabletop exercises for use throughout the VA system. These included exercises for facilities, regions (Veterans Integrated Service Networks), and the VA Central Office. In each, VA and community participants, including representatives from local health care facilities and public health agencies, were presented with a 3-step scenario about an unfolding pandemic and were required to discuss issues and make decisions about how the situation would be handled. We report the lessons learned from these pilot tests.
Results: Existing communication and coordination for pandemic influenza between VA health care system representatives and local and regional emergency planners are limited. Areas identified that would benefit from better collaborative planning include response coordination, resource sharing, uneven resource distribution, surge capacity, standards of care, workforce policies, and communication with the public.
Conclusions: The VA health system and communities throughout the United States have limited understanding of one another's plans and needs in the event of a pandemic. Proactive joint VA-community planning and coordination-including exercises, followed by deliberate actions to address the issues that arise-will likely improve pandemic influenza preparedness and will be mutually beneficial. Most of the issues identified are not unique to VA, but are applicable to all integrated care systems.