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Hospital Association Executive On How U.S. Health Care Is Preparing For COVID-19

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Washington, where this afternoon, President Trump declared a national emergency over the growing outbreak of the coronavirus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll remove or eliminate every obstacle necessary to deliver our people the care that they need and that they're entitled to. No resource will be spared - nothing whatsoever.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One group that had been calling for this emergency declaration was the American Hospital Association, a group that represents nearly 5,000 hospitals along with other health care providers. Earlier today I spoke with Rick Pollack, the group's president and CEO. I started by asking him how the emergency declaration would help the work of his group's hospitals.

RICK POLLACK: Two things. One, it could provide more increased resources to us in this situation in terms of equipment and funding to meet the challenges that are ahead of us. But in addition to that, it would allow us to break through regulatory red tape by waiving certain types of regulations that are necessary to allow us to take quick and decisive action under these circumstances. That's where it really comes in and could be very helpful.

CHANG: Well, at this point, are you seeing the federal government take the steps you think are necessary to not only slow down the spread of this disease but to provide adequate care to those who are sick?

POLLACK: You know, this is a very unique situation certainly as it related to testing. That's been slow, and that's been of great concern. It's so important to understand how big the spread is, how quickly it's spreading. That's why testing is so important. And I think that the whole testing process has obviously been very frustrating. Even the government admits that.

CHANG: You're concerned about access to testing right now in the U.S.

POLLACK: Well, I think it's beginning to improve, but we still need to get it to a point where it is available in a very convenient way and, more importantly, we get the results quicker.

CHANG: And how could that be possible? How can tests be more accessible?

POLLACK: Getting them out, making them more available, creating mechanisms that allow hospitals to do some offsite testing. You see hospitals setting up drive-by arrangements - that people don't have to come into the hospital.

CHANG: Right.

POLLACK: And they can get their tests. And that's beginning to happen - probably should've happened a week ago.

CHANG: Overall, how worried are you about the strain that the coronavirus is causing on the health care system in this country?

POLLACK: Well, there is the concern about having enough beds to take care of people, whether it's in isolation, whether it's in ICUs. That's something that we're very focused on - making sure that that capacity is ramped up. There is a real concern around the ability of having enough personal protective equipment, whether it's masks, whether it's gloves, whether it's gowns. Some of those have been in short supply. There is national strategic stockpiles that the government has the ability to tap. Having that personal protective equipment available to our physicians, nurses and other health care professionals is absolutely key. Everybody's totally focused on making sure that those supplies hold up.

CHANG: Are any emergency measures already being put in place now to increase hospital capacity?

POLLACK: Oh, yeah. I think it's fair to say that people are already beginning to explore what their options would be, and, you know, some of it is standing up the alternative sites that may exist. I know there are hospitals that are looking at sites that tents can be set up in in parking lots.

CHANG: Right.

POLLACK: You know, there are some hospitals that are looking at hotels that can be used to house or quarantine people. I think, then - you know, when you think about all of the colleges and universities that are suspending classes for the rest of the semester, perhaps there are some dormitories that may be available to either quarantine or take care of people. This is just building on what already exists to make sure that we will be prepared.

CHANG: Rick Pollack is the president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. That's an organization that represents nearly 5,000 hospitals, along with other health care providers.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

POLLACK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.