03/27/06 — Agencies gather to plan for next health emergency

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Agencies gather to plan for next health emergency

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 27, 2006 1:47 PM

Agencies in Wayne County were given their first look Friday at the Strategic National Stockpile and what it will mean to Wayne County when a public health emergency occurs.

"It will be important to coordinate our actions," said David Hesselmeyer, preparedness coordinator with the Health Department, stressing that "it is not so much 'if' but 'when' something will happen. We want to be more prepared. This is just the beginning. We want to make sure we coordinate with each other."

About 50 people attended the three-hour "Strategic National Stockpile Road Show" Friday afternoon at Wayne Memorial Hospital. In addition to the Health Department and the hospital, there were representatives from fire, police and law enforcement as well as the school system, social services, the MERCI Center, Wayne Community College and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The workshop focused on the stockpile, a cache of medications and related materials delivered to a community during an emergency situation. The SNS program is an important part of both Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services and has already acquired a proven track record.

According to a videotape that was presented, on Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government deployed the SNS to New York City just five hours after receiving the deployment order. The first order of medical supplies was received two hours after that.

The idea, presenters said, is to deliver lifesaving medical supplies anywhere in the U.S. within 12 hours of a federal decision to deploy. Typically, that means large quantities of supplies are sent out, in the form of a "Push Package."

Wendy Boggs, regional nurse with the Regional Surveillance Team 5, said it is important to effectively receive and distribute medical supplies.

"We work mainly with public health but also with hospitals and other community agencies," she said.

As to a model version of the dispensing clinic, she said, "There isn't any. We have to make do with what we have in our county. We can't just build a building and wait for a bad event to happen."

That's why POD, or Point of Dispensing, materials need to be acquired and readied for when the need arises, she said.

Eleanor Lunasin, regional pharmacist for two PHRST regions, talked about the importance of having extra medications and supplies on hand until the Push Package arrives.

"What do we have in our county, what can we put our hands on immediately until we can get help? What plans do our neighbors have in place?" she asked.

The Center for Disease Control grades on preparedness, she said. On a three-category chart, she said that currently Wayne County is ranked in the middle.

Shoring up manpower is important, she said.

Health Director James Roosen said during the Health Department's mass vaccination clinic exercise, a number of volunteers pitched in from the Red Cross, Seymour Johnson, the hospital, nursing homes, county government and other agencies.

"We trained those folks so that they could train other folks in case we had an emergency and had to staff these PODs," he said.

Charles Brown, town manager for Mount Olive, raised the question of how the PODs were identified and assessed.

"We have a memorandum of agreement with the county school system," Hesselmeyer said. "We have five designated schools and their gyms. We used one last year for the flu clinic."

He said the locations are spread out across the county.

Of concern in the future will be disseminating information to the public, Hesselmeyer said.

In addition to normal communication measures, Ms. Boggs said there are other factions of the community to consider, such as the homebound, imprisoned, homeless and undocumented population.

According to the census, she said Wayne County has more than 23,000 people who are disabled, an estimated 3,500 who are in institutions and 300 with no vehicle.

It will be helpful to study how other communities and states have handled emergency situations. And, officials said, it will require the combined efforts of many coming together to devise an effective plan.

"Whatever we do, we're going to have to go it as an integrated response," Roosen said. "There's no way I can make a plan separate from the hospital, from the city. Whatever we plan, we have to integrate with other agencies in Wayne County."

Shirley Harkey, director of nursing at the hospital, said the notion of working together is not new.

"I believe we all had a little taste of working together in 1999 (Hurricane Floyd). We're all coming together from different organization sand we're all coming together for good," she said.