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Ref: Mass town plans community bio and medical preparedness

Harvard Post

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Board of Health makes plans for disaster preparedness

By Kathy Bunnell, correspondent
GateHouse News Service
Thu Jul 19, 2007, 01:50 PM EDT
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At the July 10 meeting of the Board of Health, Ken Gikas, of the Region II Emergency Preparedness Coalition, said he will work with the board to identify and seek out members of the community who are willing to support emergency and bioterrorism preparedness efforts. Gikas made a 25-minute presentation clarifying the board’s role in setting up an Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) in the town of Harvard. With guidance from the Worcester Regional Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), the board will seek volunteers to staff the EDS.
Should a pandemic break out, every town must be self-sufficient in the decentralized Health and Homeland Alert Network (HHAN) network. The goal is to craft local solutions while integrating the planning and implementation into the nationwide response plan.
An all-board meeting will be called by the health board to begin coordination of fire, police, schools, Council on Aging, and Department of Public Works.
“There’s a lot of work ahead,” Gikas said, “but it’s not rocket science.” The Health and Homeland Alert Network (HHAN) has been set up by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and Harvard’s first representatives include health board administrative assistant Shanna Large and Nashoba Associated Boards of Health sanitarian Ira Grossman, who provides services to neighboring towns as well.
With a population of approximately 6,000 residents, Gikas said, Harvard’s goal in the case of an emergency would be to have a minimum of two professionals vaccinating or medicating 80 percent of the population within two days, while operating on 12-hour shifts. Volunteers would respond to the news of an infectious disease outbreak ranging from hepatitis A to meningitis to a flu pandemic or bioterrorist event.
The MRC has identified 190 professionals in the town, including doctors, nurses, vets, chiropractors, mental health professionals, pharmacists, dentists and EMTs. Each will receive a letter from the health board asking for help. Those who step up will be trained to respond to any type of health disaster. Also sought are residents who can interpret, serve as chaplains, office staff and legal advisors.
“For every medical professional, three support staff and relief people are needed,” said Gikas.
The criteria for Harvard’s EDS include being able to meet community needs in a worst-case scenario, requiring getting the site up and running within 24 hours of notification; and treating 4,800 people within the first 48 hours and the remaining 1,200 over the next 72 hours. The Bromfield School has been selected to meet these needs.
Considerable pre-disaster planning must occur, Gikas said, including transportation. Northborough, Upton and Princeton, for example, have all chosen to use school buses “going up and down the streets” to help people needing aid. In addition, a team was created to identify the elderly and the homebound for special attention.
Gikas plans to update the health board every two months. In the meantime, he said, the town should have received “starter materials” for the site, including radios and medical supplies. Some towns’ health boards have purchased the Geo-TMS system, a $3,000 record-keeping program. The Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Department of Worcester County, has purchased a reverse identification system, the use of which will be free to Worcester County towns for one year. fire, police, EMS and BOH will be able to contact the county sheriff’s office, which will then be able to activate the $50,000 system to notify local dispatchers.
Both BOH chair Tom Philippou and member Sean Doocey are EMTs, and took a keen interest in the discussion. Member Lorin Johnson observed that vaccinating 80 percent of the town in two days would require “a lot of vaccine.”
“If it’s smallpox,” Gikas answered, “there is enough in strategic storage to vaccinate everyone in the country.” And, he said, it takes only 12 hours to get here but must be refrigerated the whole way.
At this point, sanitarian Ira Grossman said that, in his experience, “You’ll get the vaccine, but it won’t come with a delivery vehicle — the syringes. You have to pre-think that,” he advised.
The Worcester Regional Medical Reserve Corps includes 74 cities and towns. The nationwide MRC was founded after President Bush’s call to volunteer in his 2002 State of the Union address. It is part of the Citizen Corps, a national network of volunteers dedicated to ensuring homeland security. Community-based, the MRC units function as a way to both promote healthy living and to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies. Volunteers supplement existing local emergency and public health resources.
For more information, visit the Web at www.medicalreservecorps.

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