Lord Fairfax Health District officials and volunteers converged on Johnson- Williams Middle School in Berryville, Virginia today for a dress rehearsal of how to respond to a large scale medical emergency in Clarke County. The “point of dispensing” exercise tests the processes that would be used to immunize County residents in the event of an influenza epidemic or wide-spread biological attack.
“The goal of today’s exercise is to setup a vaccination clinic that can respond to a widespread health threat,” said Dr. Charlie Devine, Director of the Lord Fairfax Health District. “We need to be able to mobilize and respond within 24-hours and this helps us understand how to accomplish that goal.”
Devine emphasized that the exercise was not linked to any pending health crisis.
“The chances of a influenza epidemic are relatively low right now,” Devine said.
Devine said that the Lord Fairfax Health District 24-hour response time goal is needed for responding to a chemical attack from a biological agent like anthrax. Diseases like influenza usually have a several day window of response.
“Our preparedness is just one part of the entire response chain,” Device explained. “Medicine and antibiotics would have to be delivered to us by the State of Virginia.”
Devine said that goal of the practice session is to inoculate 300 people per hour.
Although no one actually received a real shot in Thursday’s session, volunteers acting as patients said that the experience felt like the real thing.
“The whole process was very authentic,” said Brandie Benoit, a public relations specialist who lives in Winchester. “The only difference was that the medical technician used a coffee straw to simulate the scary shot so I didn’t get the sting that usually goes along with it.”
Benoit said that her role in the exercise included checking in at the intake desk, filling out medical forms and then being interviewed by health department staff prior to receiving her simulated vaccination.
“This exercise is definitely a very good thing to do,” Benoit added. “It helps the health department staff be more prepared and reduces the chance of a panic if something does happen.
Benoit is also a volunteer coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Health District’s Medical Reserve Corps, a group of area citizens who train and prepare themselves to mobilize in the event of a medical emergency.
“Our region has ten-to-twenty Medical Reserve Corps volunteers,” said Dr. Devine. “Some are retired medical professionals but others are non-medical people who want to help their communities. The point-of-dispensing exercise allows us to pre-credential our volunteers prior to and actual emergency.”
“I started volunteering for the Medical Reserve Corps because I just wanted to be involved in my community,” Benoit said.
At today’s exercise Dr. Devine, who is responsible for health policy across the Lord Fairfax Health District’s six member jurisdictions; Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah, Warren as well as the city of Winchester, played the role of an Italian tourist who found himself in Clarke County during an epidemic.
“We have to be prepared to treat everyone, not just citizens,” Devine said.
Devine said that the point-of-dispensing exercise focuses on testing the Lord Fairfax Heath District’s staff, community partners, first responders, and Medical Reserve Corps volunteers test the Health District’s overall ability to deliver medications quickly in a public health emergency such as a pandemic.
The Lord Fairfax Health Department will use the results of today’s exercise to improve efficiency and accuracy in the event that his team is mobilized during a real emergency.
“The issues that come up will be later reviewed and a final report will be created,” Devine said. “We also have officials here from the Virginia Department of Health in Richmond. Their job is to help us see the things that we miss even though we try to catch.”
Devine added that today’s exercise included approximately 40 volunteers from across the Lord Fairfax Heath Department region and was funded by a public health emergency preparedness and response grant.