Health departments looking for victims

Friday, August 20, 2004

Want to be a victim without actually suffering?

The Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center and the Bollinger County Public Health Center in Marble Hill are looking for volunteers to take part in a disaster drill Wednesday.

The two health department offices are working with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, three additional local public health agencies and two hospitals to test plans for dispensing medications in the event of a large-scale public health emergency or terrorist attack.

Charlotte Craig, director of the Cape Girardeau Health Center, said she already has 200 volunteers but needs about that many more. Bollinger County needs more volunteers as well, she said.

Some volunteers will role play a person with allergies, others will have other complications, and some will have chest pains. All will go through triage and be assessed before the health department can administer an antidote to whatever biochemical attack the health departments will have to respond to.

The drill will simulate what actually would happen if a biochemical attack were to occur, from paperwork to casualties. In the event of an attack or a large-scale crisis, state and local public health agencies must be prepared to distribute mass quantities of life saving pharmaceuticals, antidotes, vaccines and other medical supplies to the public quickly.

The federal government established the Strategic National Stockpile program to deliver large and continuous quantities of medical items to the site of a national emergency within 12 hours.

This exercise will provide firsthand, practical experience with picking up the medications for an area distribution site and dispensing medications to the area residents.

The drill will begin in the morning when the public health offices receive a call saying an attack has occurred. They will be advised what kind of chemical is involved. Personnel will be told where to go to pick up the antidote, how to notify the public and where to set up the distribution site.

Interested participants are asked to call the health department to volunteer. They can either speak directly to personnel or can leave a name and a call-back phone number on voice mail. The phone number is needed so health department personnel can let them know where the distribution site will be.

Volunteers will get a brief orientation and a card identifying what kind of victim they will portray around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday and the actual drill will begin at 1:30. Craig said volunteer participation should take no more than 45 minutes. The health departments will run through that part of the drill twice.

Volunteers are asked to call ahead and not just show up at the distribution site, she stressed.

"This would be a wonderful opportunity for citizens to become involved in an event that is critical to the community's preparedness for a disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack," Craig said.

On that day, public health agencies in Butler, Howell and New Madrid counties will also open dispensing sites for the exercise. Saint Francis Medical Center will provide mock medications to its employees and family members.

Volunteers may call the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center at 335-7846 or the Bollinger County Public Health Center at 238-2817 by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in order to participate.

335-6611, extension 160

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