Vulnerable Populations in Hospital and Health Care Emergency Preparedness Planning: A Comprehensive Framework for Inclusion.
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INTRODUCTION: As attention to emergency preparedness becomes a critical element of health care facility operations planning, efforts to recognize and integrate the needs of vulnerable populations in a comprehensive manner have lagged. This not only results in decreased levels of equitable service, but also affects the functioning of the health care system in disasters. While this report emphasizes the United States context, the concepts and approaches apply beyond this setting. OBJECTIVE: This report: (1) describes a conceptual framework that provides a model for the inclusion of vulnerable populations into integrated health care and public health preparedness; and (2) applies this model to a pilot study. METHODS: The framework is derived from literature, hospital regulatory policy, and health care standards, laying out the communication and relational interfaces that must occur at the systems, organizational, and community levels for a successful multi-level health care systems response that is inclusive of diverse populations explicitly. The pilot study illustrates the application of key elements of the framework, using a four-pronged approach that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative methods for deriving information that can inform hospital and health facility preparedness planning. CONCLUSIONS: The conceptual framework and model, applied to a pilot project, guide expanded work that ultimately can result in methodologically robust approaches to comprehensively incorporating vulnerable populations into the fabric of hospital disaster preparedness at levels from local to national, thus supporting best practices for a community resilience approach to disaster preparedness.