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Onora Lien: Building a Resilient Health Care System

NWCPHP sits down with Northwest Healthcare Response Network Executive Director Onora Lien, to learn about her vision for building a regional health care response system.
Onora Lien: Building a Resilient Health Care System

Onora Lien, Executive Director of the Northwest Healthcare Response Network.

NWCPHP sits down with Northwest Healthcare Response Network Executive Director Onora Lien, to learn about her vision for building a regional health care response system.

September 22, 2014

How do health care organizations come together to be prepared for, respond to, and recover from emergencies? The Northwest Healthcare Response Network is working to answer this question, and their recently named Executive Director, Onora Lien, is leading the efforts.

Lien brings a wealth of expertise in emergency preparedness and emergency management, having worked in health care and public health for more than 13 years. She has big aspirations for the Northwest Healthcare Response Network. In a recent interview with NWCPHP, Lien articulated her goals and vision for working with a coalition of partners to build a resilient health care community.

What are your goals for the Northwest Healthcare Response Network?
One primary goal is to create a financially sustainable organization. Historically our programming has been almost entirely funded by federal grants. As those resources diminish, it is essential for us to find new ways to support our work. Transitioning into a nonprofit helped the Network diversify its funding sources and gives us an opportunity to expand our membership base. By creating a more financially sustainable organization and offering innovative work, we can help meet demands of those who have a vested stake in the well-being of our communities.

I would also like to see us establish ourselves as a more recognizable brand and a leader in coalition building for health care preparedness, increase the number of health care organizations involved in the work we do, and expand our community partnerships. As part of this, I am interested in more involvement of the business community in health care preparedness work. I believe they have a vested stake in the viability and continuity of our health care organizations, before, during, and after a disaster.

Why do you think it's important to have a collaborative healthcare network?
Looking at previous disaster response as examples, I don’t believe organizations can be stand-alone anymore. We all need to work together when responding to an event. A collaborative health care network allows organizations to maximize resources, as well as coordinate and streamline their approaches for responding to disasters. By coordinating efforts beforehand, our health care communities have an opportunity to train on relevant topics together, so that the outcome will be more effective in serving the community as a whole.

September is National Preparedness Month, does the Northwest Healthcare Response Network have any special activities, communications efforts, or other plans?
During the month of September, we will hold an annual Pediatric Disaster Emergency Response workshop, where we work with health care providers throughout Washington State to increase capacity for managing pediatric patients in emergency situations, including times when resources like power, water, or supplies may be limited.

We also ramp up our messaging about disaster preparedness through Facebook and Twitter outlets. September is an excellent reminder for us within the network to evaluate our own personal family preparedness plan to make sure they are up to date.

Can you provide an example where the Northwest Healthcare Response Network monitored and coordinated efforts effectively? What was the event and what was the outcome?
I think the way the King County Healthcare Coalition (prior to the merger to form the Network) served as a liaison to health care in response to the H1N1 pandemic was an effective coordination of efforts. By understanding staff and supply shortages, obtaining input on how to prioritize resources, and engaging health care on how to implement a process, we were better positioned on the front end to deal with a shortage if that had become a reality. More recently the Network is coordinating with with health care organizations on management of Ebola and Enterovirus D68.

What do you foresee as some of the things we should be prepared for in the Puget Sound region?

  1. Infectious diseases—an infectious disease can strike at any time, and the health care community needs to be ready and able to respond.
  2. Earthquakes—in the Pacific Northwest, we always need to be primed for an earthquake of significant size.
  3. Winter storms—on a semiannual basis, we should be reminded of how to be prepared in case a storm knocks out power, or conditions make it difficult to leave our homes.
  4. Cyber security—with the dependency of IT in health care, especially with electronic health records becoming more prevalent, it is important to protect information accordingly.


Onora Lien is the Executive Director of the Northwest Healthcare Response Network. She was responsible for leading the organization’s transition out of Public Health - Seattle & King County to an independent nonprofit. Between 2006–2013, Lien served as a program manager, working as a leader within the Northwest Healthcare Response Network and its predecessor King County Healthcare Coalition team.

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