Bioterrorism: Are we ready?

When the unthinkable becomes thinkable

When the unthinkable becomes thinkable

September 09, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP
(Page 3 of 3)

The hazmat team in Martinsburg, W.Va., does have the suits, however, and a partnership was born.

"Hopefully this will foster more sharing of information," Sherwood says. "I'm for inclusion rather than exclusion. We have to share this information and make it available."

Early on, knowing who to share information with proved difficult for some, including Washington County Health Officer Bill Christoffel.

When a combined meeting between health department, hospital and emergency personnel was held in the hospital board room, Christoffel expected it to last a half-hour, tops.

Instead, attendees spilled out into the hall for a session that continued for about two hours.

"I think knowing who the actors were was not very well understood," Christoffel admits. "We knew we had to deal with the hospital or emergency management, but weren't clear on what that meant."


Not if, but when

In a relatively short amount of time, clear channels of communication have developed, but not all is rosy.

Security measures and training don't come cheap; with nationwide shortages of health care professionals continuing, bringing employees up to speed with the latest news and techniques is costly and time consuming.

Anderson, from Chambersburg Hospital, says the last year has seen more educational information being filtered to physicians about possible biological threats.

Across the board, health care professionals discuss integrating ongoing education to ensure staff is prepared if an attack should occur.

And where not too long ago field drills would revolve around bus accidents, more often they deal with terror scenarios, such as a scheduled drill yesterday in Greencastle, Pa., to assess preparedness.

In the coming weeks, Jefferson Memorial Hospital will take part in a drill, and Newby says a disaster scenario will be played out in Washington County sometime next spring.

"We have to work on ways to keep the question in front of people. Are we prepared? What more can we do," Sherwood says.

"You don't want to have panic, but you want people to be aware. We know tornadoes are going to strike, hurricanes are going to hit, floods are going to happen, and we know these can do more damage than a bioterroism attack, depending on the agent."

All that remains for most is to continue refining plans, holding drills and preparing as best as possible for events healthcare professionals hope never come to pass.

Within a month of the first anthrax scares last fall, Maryland Secretary of Health Georges C. Benjamin, M.D., spent an afternoon in Washington County. He asked Newby whether the health system was equipped to deal with a biological crisis.

"Last week, not very well," Newby says he told Benjamin. "Today, eh, maybe, but give me a couple of weeks and I think we could do a pretty good job.

"And today, if we had one of these events, I think we could do a pretty good job."

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