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Pandemic flu exercise successful

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  • Pandemic flu exercise successful

    Pandemic flu exercise successful

    Written by ILENE OLSON and CJ BAKER

    Wednesday, 02 July 2008

    Exercise identified strengths, weaknesses of local health-care system

    It?s been 90 years since the United States has had a really deadly outbreak of pandemic flu.

    The last serious outbreak occurred in 1918 ? when an estimated 20 million to 100 million people died across the globe. Of those, 500,000 were Americans. William F. Cody?s daughter, Irma, was among the victims.

    No one knows when the next outbreak will occur, but the Wyoming officials want the state to be ready for it.

    Last week, the Wyoming Department of Health simulated an outbreak of pandemic flu across the state. The training exercise coordinated the efforts of hospitals and health officials in dealing with a simulated outbreak of influenza.

    Dalyn Farwell, with Park County?s public health office, said the hypothetical scenario had 2,800 Park County residents getting sick. Of those, 122 died.

    Faith Jones, vice president of patient care services at Powell Valley Healthcare, said the scenario outlined by the Wyoming Department of Health, though fictitious, was ?very realistic and quite doable.?

    The exercise involved officials from across the county ? commissioners, the coroner, even the county veterinarian.

    ?It talked about a pandemic that would begin in Asia sometime back in January... with person-to-person spread, ? Jones said.

    That happened the first day of the exercise on Monday, she said. By Tuesday, the scenario had progressed to events that would have happened in May.

    The exercise included going through routines that normally would be needed during a pandemic situation, such as contacting the media and tracking staff levels and bed availailability.

    At one point during the virtual, four-day exercise, Powell Valley Healthcare officials learned their workforce was reduced by 40 percent because so many employees were ill with the flu.

    ?They used real statistics and based them on the 1918 flu pandemic,? but altered them to reflect current population estimates, Jones said.

    Pandemic flu is not like seasonal flu, Farwell said.

    Unlike the stuff that comes around every year, pandemic flu involves a strain of virus that humans have never dealt with before.

    Because it is so different, ?no one has any kind of immunity,? she said.

    The exercise gave Powell Valley Healthcare employees a chance to test a pandemic flu plan developed by Bill Goff, an intensive-care nurse at Powell Valley Hospital.

    ?He has taken a lead and put together an entire plan along with some other people on the committee,? Jones said. ?We learned that our plan worked very well.?

    The exercise also served as a test of a new statewide online bed-tracking system, she said.

    That system went live on Tuesday.

    ?Starting today, we go in at midnight and report how many empty beds we have,? Jones said. ?Any time something happened in the state, we could go in and see who had empty beds.?

    Jones said, ?We noticed in the drill that many hospitals had gone on divert.?

    In other words, those hospitals no longer were accepting patients and were diverting new patients to other area hospitals (in the drill only).

    ?We?re not sure what?s going to happen when a lot of the hospitals are full,? she added.

    In a pandemic, beds likely will be hard to come by in Wyoming, or, for that matter, anywhere else.

    Farwell said that, by definition, a pandemic is global in scope. All health services will be short on resources ? from beds to anti-viral medication to body bags.

    Farwell said the county will be working on a plan for quarantining and isolating infected individuals.

    She said Wyoming?s thinly-spread population makes illness hard to deal with.

    ?When one particular person stays home from their job, it makes a difference,? she said.

    However, hard or not, avoiding contact with other people is important

    ?Especially in this kind of situation, you need to stay home,? she said. ?That?ll slow [the pandemic] down more than anything.?

    Jones said the exercise pointed out a few things that need to be worked on, both locally and statewide.

    For instance, when the hospital?s staff was (hypothetically) down by 40 percent, Jones said she called a statewide nurse-volunteer database to find out who might be available to fill in the gaps during a real health-care crisis.

    ?When I called them, they didn?t have any way to give the names out to people,? she said.

    Overall, Jones said, the exercise went very well.

    ?It was quite a week,? she added. ?The part that made it a little tough was, we probably put a year?s worth of activity in four days. Sometimes it was difficult to get your head around it.

    ?In reality, we would be meeting a couple of times a day (during a real pandemic situation), but we were meeting almost every hour.?

    Powell Valley Healthcare employees will meet with county and state health-care agencies in August to talk about what they learned and what changes need to be made.

    ?We hope we never have to use (that information), but we keep practicing with it so we will have it if we need it,? She said.

    As preparation for any emergency, Farwell recommends storing enough food and water to last at least two weeks.