09/22/06 — Health Department receives $20,000 in computers

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Health Department receives $20,000 in computers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 22, 2006 1:48 PM

The bioterrorism preparedness department of the Health Department has been awarded a state grant that provides $20,000 worth of computer equipment, software and training.

David Hesselmeyer, bioterrorism coordinator, said Wayne was among 17 counties in the state to receive the grant. Several from his office as well as other area agencies attended training sessions.

The grant enabled the Health Department to acquire a laptop computer, four handheld computer units and software packages for them, Hesselmeyer said. The portable units allow workers to take information into the field. They are programmed with such information as area maps.

"In terms of public health preparedness, we can plot an outbreak of things like a foodborne illness, for example," he said, explaining that the maps can be customized to include anything from stoplights to locations of fire hydrants.

The system also replaces the need for workers to carry clipboards and record information with pencil and paper, said Steve Ramsey of Greensboro, team leader of Public Health Regional Surveillance Team 5.

"That introduces the possibility of error due to handwriting, handling paperwork," he said. "This projects allows us to create a standard database and collect information we can analyze more quickly."

The methodology can help assist with such emergency situation needs as evacuations and roadblocks and setting up clinics people can walk to, Ramsey said.

The mapping will also be a big asset in the event of another hurricane or flooding, said Kevin Whitley, environmental health supervisor.

"We can generate a map that shows where it is. We can use that map for first responder," he said.

By utilizing the computers on a daily basis, Whitley said they are "not just sitting on the shelf until an emergency."

"They wanted us to be proficient at using the machines. For the last three months, we have used them in environmental health to plot all the septic systems," he said.

Chris Cowan, who handles information technology for the county, said the computers can also be used to create forms and surveys that can transferred to other devices. The greatest advantage is it helps create a historical record of data and yet cost the taxpayers nothing, he said.

Hesselmeyer said his staff is looking into how to use the new technology in case of a mass vaccination or mass dispensing of medication, similar to flu clinics the Health Department has held in recent years.

"We can use it to track patient flow," he said. "We can actually use the GPS (global positioning system) to provide us a route. Some of the software even goes so in-depth, we can pick those patients. ... I feel like the door is open to what we can use it for."

Hesselmeyer said his office has already held discussions with the Office of Emergency Services about the added resource that is available.

"The biggest thing with us using it," said Cowan, "is we're actually establishing the standard for Wayne County government. If we need to bring planning inspection into it, the tax office, we'll know how."