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DHS news release

Feb. 7, 2007

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Program contact: Susan Allan, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., 971-673-1282

Medical advisory group lays groundwork for public health emergency decision-making

The Oregon Department of Human Services has convened a high-level panel to help the Public Health Division plan for critical medical decisions that would need to be made during a major emergency.

"If Oregon is confronted with a major influenza pandemic or another widespread disaster, there will probably not be enough resources to meet the overwhelming needs that will arise," said Susan Allan, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., administrator of the DHS Public Health Division. "Difficult decisions will need to be made, and our intent is to work through potential dilemmas now -- not in the middle of a crisis."

The panel, called the Medical Advisory Group, consists of representatives of major health care providers and other groups that would need to help implement medical decisions. They include county health departments, health professional organizations, health insurers, local governments and tribal organizations, a researcher with expertise in mass communications, and an ethicist.

"This group is helping establish guidelines and frameworks that will be instrumental for making complex decisions quickly in a time of crisis. Members of this group also may be asked to review proposed recommendations by the state during a crisis," Allan said. "Many of them represent professionals who will be at the forefront in carrying out those decisions. It is far better to build an understanding of what is at stake now, while we have time to discuss potential issues and identify the critical factors that would have to be balanced."

The Medical Advisory Group is working through some of the dilemmas that could arise during a major emergency such as a pandemic, earthquake or chemical spill. For example, Allan said, there may not be enough medical supplies for everyone, health care systems may be overloaded or community measures may need to be put in place to contain the emergency.

While the group has been asked to focus on decisions that would arise during an influenza pandemic, the ethical framework and communication systems they are developing can be applied in other emergency situations, Allan said.

The Medical Advisory Group is expected to wrap up its initial work by June. But that won't be the end of the process. Members of the group, along with state and local officials, will have related discussions with other organizations, officials and communities, according to Allan.