When Michael Chamberlain, CAE, assistant division director of administration, American Academy of Family Physicians, Leawood, Kan., was looking for guidance from other associations in developing a crisis plan for pandemics, he didn't find much help. “We wanted to find out if anyone else had developed plans that we could learn from, but unfortunately, we found that we were on the leading edge of this.”
A plan specifically addressing the threat of a pandemic is critical, if overlooked, says Chamberlain, because, while there are no guarantees that the current strain of bird flu in Southeast Asia will morph into a human virus, pandemics tend to happen every 30 years or so, so it's only a matter of time. “It's a question of when, not if,” he says.
If a pandemic were to hit the U.S., in a worst-case scenario, it could keep anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent of the workforce home for months. As an association of family physicians, AAFP felt it was important to have a pandemic crisis plan so that the association would be up and running and have the resources to support its members — the doctors on the front lines who would be treating people.
So, the association came up with a response plan that focused on three critical areas: staffing and day-to-day operations; meetings; and building operations (since AAFP owns its building and has tenants in its headquarters).
The report includes specific action items laid out in stages based on the World Health Organization's six stages of global alertness for a pandemic, which range from stage 1 (no influenza detected) to stage 6 (pandemic). Currently, the world is on stage 3 alert (human infections detected with no human-to-human transmission).
AAFP's first step, with regard to meetings, is to add pandemic influenza toclauses, allowing AAFP to cancel if the federal government or the WHO declares a pandemic.
Next, AAFP meeting planners are advised to make contact with public health officials in the cities where meetings are being held in the future. “In almost all cases, there's going to be a local public health authority that's going to determine what will happen in a city (in the event of a pandemic),” says Chamberlain. If there are any health alert status changes, planners will know “what the local plans are and what the expectations are for a large group of people coming into the city.” The association recommends doing this at stage 3 alert, which is now.
If an outbreak did occur while the group was at the meeting, the plan calls for following the directives of the local health officials in that city. The meeting planner is the group representative on-site, responsible for calling the health officials as well as launching a predetermined communication tree designed to notify all interested parties — including attendees,, vendors, hotels, center officials, city and tourism officials, and association headquarters. Chamberlain also noted the importance of planners finding out in advance that the meeting venues and hotels have their own pandemic plan.
From the standpoint of staffing and operations, the plan includes some key requirements. First, AAFP instituted a “containment leave policy,” which is an emergency bank of 30 additional sick days for each employee in case of a pandemic. They also made each department develop “mission critical” functions — things that absolutely must be done. The question is: How would they be done with half the office out sick? It might involve telecommuting, which could also require technology upgrades. The plan also mandates that a financial reserve be set aside in case a pandemic should occur.