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Officials say they're satisfied with handling of health scare

October 13, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

State emergency and county health officials said Thursday that they are satisfied with the way in which a health scare in downtown Hagerstown was handled Wednesday.

Twelve African refugees and three other people were evacuated from a West Franklin Street apartment building Wednesday afternoon on the suspicion they had a contagious illness, which turned out to be a false alarm complicated by a language barrier.

A doctor who examined the group in decontamination tents set up near the apartment building at 25 1/2 W. Franklin St. determined "no one was suffering from something that posed some type of threat," Washington County Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae said.

"We've done a lot of training and this was something that was real and worked really well with the added benefit that there weren't adverse consequences," he said.

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Health department officials plan to meet today to go over how the situation might have been handled better, but have no "specific thing that we're concerned with."

Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems Deputy Director Clay Stamp said "appropriate precautions were taken in case it was an infectious disease" by emergency personnel who responded to the scene.

He said MIEMSS, a state network of volunteer and career emergency and medical personnel, was called in as a resource in the Wednesday incident. Stamp participated in a conference call with representatives of agencies at the scene Wednesday night to talk about issues they faced.

"Although this (incident) was somewhat rare, there are a number of these types of situations that occur statewide," he said.

MacRae said the county health department's deputy health officer for medical services, Dr. Mark Jameson, communicable disease supervisor, Elizabeth Nuckles, examined the group. Stamp said emergency personnel followed decontamination procedures inside the apartment building before taking the group, which was wearing masks, out of the building.

Washington County Hospital was ready to isolate patients, but didn't need to use two "negative pressure" rooms for that purpose, spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said.

MacRae said Hagerstown Fire Department Chief Gary Hawbaker was appointed the public information officer on the scene "because he was the person who had the most complete firsthand knowledge."

Karen Black, a public information officer for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said Thursday that since emergency services personnel arrived first, they controlled the scene and MIEMSS' protocol was followed.

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