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Pandemic plan put to the test

August 22, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Although it was about 90 degrees outside, the people standing inside Elks Lodge No. 378 Monday afternoon were pretending they had just come in from the cold.

In the scenario, it was supposed to be 37 degrees and dark when about 100 people walked into the Robinwood Drive club in the middle of a December snowstorm to get medication in response to an avian flu outbreak.

As part of a statewide drill, the Washington County Health Department set up a mock distribution site at the club Monday to test how well workers could disperse medication from the Strategic National Stockpile in the event of a pandemic, said Earl Stoner, county deputy health officer.

"This isn't a test of people. It's a test of our plan," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was "testing the state's ability to mobilize clinics in a pandemic flu situation," he said.

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Some county emergency groups and institutions that would be instrumental in coordinating a response to such an outbreak participated in the exercise, said Jenny Taylor-Gray, a health department social worker, who was acting Monday as a public information officer. Washington County Hospital pretended to have a full emergency room and the Washington County Sheriff's Department pretended to escort the medication from the county line to the site, she said.

If there were an actual outbreak, the Elks Lodge would be just one of many distribution sites in the county, she said. Although there were only about 100 people volunteering as mock patients, those people were to go through the lines repeatedly to simulate about 800 people, Taylor-Gray said.

Dan Baumgardner sighed loudly and grumbled as he stood in line waiting to get his mock medication. When he was called to his seat beside Health Department Nurse Michelle Sauble, Baumgardner appeared irritated.

"I'm a little cranky here because I'm 60 and I should have been ahead of everybody else," he said to Sauble.

Baumgardner is actually 45, but he was holding a card that said he was Leroy Palmer, 60. The card instructed him to pretend to want preferential treatment because of his age. Sauble told him that she would tell other nurses that older patients should not have to wait so long to be seen.

A Correctional Medical Services nurse and infection control coordinator, Baumgardner said he volunteered so he could learn how to apply the drill used by the health department to the prisons.

Alida Hannah, a pharmacist at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said she volunteered for similar reasons. She is on a team that must respond to disasters within 12 hours and wanted a walk-through on a drill.

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