Better to be prepared
The Health Department is trying to raise awareness on how to control an outbreak of a pandemic flu
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Article Last Updated: 04/14/2008 09:31:58 AM EDT

Monday, April 14
PITTSFIELD ? There are no flu epidemics headed for Pittsfield, but the city plans to be ready in case they do come.

The Health Department has scheduled several workshops over the next month that are designed to both raise awareness and form the basis of a pandemic plan for Pittsfield.

Titled "Preparing Pittsfield for Pandemic," the activities will begin Tuesday, April 22, when a "Pittsfield Pandemic Seminar" will take place between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Admission is free.

The guest speaker is Dr. Paul Biddinger, chairman of the Massachusetts Medical Society Committee of Preparedness, who also is associate director of the Harvard School of Public Health.

"The major purpose is to educate the public, business and the community on a pandemic," said Patricia McGrath, Pittsfield's public health nurse, referring to the entire program.

Besides speaking at the seminar, Biddinger also is expected to lead an exercise for those in attendance to experience what a pandemic would look like in Pittsfield. An author of numerous articles and book chapters on emergency preparedness and disaster medicine, he has conducted similar exercises in
the past.

According to McGrath, a pandemic occurs when an unfamiliar strain of influenza affects a community. She said avian or bird flu, which has reached epidemic proportions in parts of southeast Asia, is an example of a pandemic.

"But it could be any kind of virus," she said. "Swine flu is one."

McGrath said the idea is to prepare Pittsfield for any situation that could occur. According to information supplied by the Health Department, influenza pandemics could cause people to stay home, force businesses and schools to close, and disrupt basic services such as transportation and food delivery. A local response to emergencies such as influenza pandemics require planning, organization and coordination, the Health Department states.

The seminar at the Crowne Plaza Hotel will be followed by workshops that will highlight these specific topics: medical issues, fatality management, basic needs, business, community issues, and government and schools. The workshops will take place in Pittsfield between April 29 and May 16.

A final meeting will take place May 30 at the Italian-American Club on Newell Street to summarize all of the previous input.

Workshop schedule

April 29: Medical, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Berkshire Medical Center.

May 1: Fatality Management, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Italian-American Club, 203 Newell St.

May 6: Basic Needs, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Italian-American Club.

May 9: Business, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Itam Lodge, 93 Waubeek Road.

May 13: Community, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Italian-American Club.

May 16: Government & Schools, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Itam Lodge.