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Hospital drills for flu pandemic

August 19, 2007|By TRISH RUDDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The hospitals are overflowing with influenza patients in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, and more will come.

How will West Virginia University Hospitals-East (WVUH-East) handle a flu pandemic? By establishing an alternate care site in the gymnasium at Martinsburg High School.

That was the scenario Saturday, and WVU-East personnel, staff at City Hospital and Jefferson Memorial Hospital, and community volunteers participated by staging a drill to test their preparedness.

Teresa McCabe, WVUH-East vice president of marketing and development, said this was the first influenza pandemic drill in the state.

"The drill is to test our ability to set up and operate and then tear down the alternative care site," she said.

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McCabe said it took about eight hours on Friday to set up the site with beds and equipment. The setup limit was 12 hours, she said.

A 40-bed unit was in the gymnasium, and three shifts of about 20 patients each were bused from City Hospital to the high school. One doctor and five nurses were on each shift, McCabe said. The exercise began Saturday at 8 a.m. and was to last until 9 p.m.

The alternative care site will be used for patients with early signs of flu symptoms, but not in need of a hospital bed, or those patients who were well enough to be released from the hospital, but not ready to go home, McCabe said.

Mike Groves, R.N., vice president of patient services at City Hospital, was the incident commander of the alternative care site.

Groves said since the 1400s, three to four pandemic influenzas have occurred each century. In 1918, about 50 million people died worldwide during the Spanish flu pandemic. The Asian flu in 1957 and the Hong Kong flu in 1968 killed about 3 million people worldwide.

"If you're going to plan, you plan for the worst," Groves said.

Groves said an estimated 9 million people in the United States could die in the next pandemic.

Because people travel faster, "(the flu) can spread quicker and we must be prepared," he said.

The Avian flu, H5N1, is a strain with pandemic potential because it ultimately might adapt into a strain that is contagious among humans. The virus has to mutate and spread from human to human before it becomes a pandemic, Groves said.

Helen Hathaway, a patient care technician at City Hospital, was a volunteer patient Saturday morning.

"It was an excellent run," she said at the end of her shift.

Dr. Michael Murphy, vice president of medical affairs at City Hospital, was the site doctor Saturday morning. He said each patient came in with a different scenario, and Hathaway's scenario was that she developed signs of pneumonia along with the flu, and a decision was made to send her back to the hospital.

As public information officer, McCabe's role is to keep the media informed. Becky Nucilli, WVUH-East vice president of human resources, said her role is to coordinate and document internal communications.

"I'm one of the planners," she said. "I'll make sure there is enough food and supplies."

McCabe said participants took four National Incident Management System (NIMS) training courses to prepare for the drill.

Other participants in the drill were from Berkeley County's school system, sheriff's department, health department and Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; Martinsburg's police, fire and EMS departments; and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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