State Plans For Usage Of Regional Emergency Sites By Randy Dockendorf
Yankton Media Inc. The South Dakota Department of Health doesn't currently plan to activate regional emergency sites in response to H1N1 Influenza A, a state official said Monday. However, those 30 cities around the state — including nearly a dozen communities in southeast South Dakota — will continue playing an important role in Homeland Security, said Chris Qualm with the state Department of Health. Communities develop a plan to meet local needs, Qualm said. The plan is coordinated with county, tribal, state and federal officials for rapid delivery of medications and other supplies, he said. Major health systems, such as Avera, Sanford and Rapid City Regional, are also included in the planning process, Qualm said. "When it comes to mass dispensing, our goal is to reach all of the population within 48 hours," he said. As a regional coordinator, Qualm works with the Points of Dispensing (POD) in the southeast region. Those host communities include Yankton, Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Madison, Wagner, Freeman, Vermillion and Canton, Qualm said. He declined to list the specific sites in each community for security reasons. "The PODs can be used for the mass issuance of vaccines or antibiotics that can be delivered to an entire population," he said. "They can also be used for delivering other assistance." At this point, the state DOH is monitoring the possible H1N1 cases to determine future action, Qualm said. "We aren't currently planning to use the PODs for H1N1 for two reasons," he said. "There isn't a vaccine for the current virus, and there aren't enough anti-virals to reach 100 percent of the population." However, a POD can be quickly activated if needed, he said. "As far as the PODs, I don't see us using them yet unless we have a large-scale public health emergency," he said. The PODs are not limited in use to pandemics, Qualm said. The sites can be used for needs ranging from natural disasters to bioterrorism, he said. "You could have a tornado, and the hospital would need a lot of supplies," he said. "The state and federal governments have a lot of resources, but there needs to be regional planning and access to those supplies." In case of an emergency, the state can contact the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which can tap into its medical cache known as the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), Qualm said. The SNS has been used for national crises such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the anthrax scare in New York City and Washington, D.C., Qualm said. But the stockpile can also be used for local disasters, he said. The South Dakota PODs were implemented in 2005, Qualm said. "When we chose the locations of PODs, we looked at the population of the communities and the area they cover," he said. "We tried to identify points of dispensing that would be close so people would not have to travel a long distance." For example, Freeman serves as a POD covering Hutchinson and Turner counties, but the site doesn't limit itself to those counties' residents, Qualm said. Also, South Dakota PODs would not turn away non-residents, such as northeast Nebraskans seeking assistance at Yankton, he said. "We don't draw lines, and we don't have a problem with assisting visitors in those (POD) cities or people from outlying areas," he said. "We wouldn't deny assistance to anyone." In fact, South Dakota officials remain in continuous contact with officials from neighboring states, Qualm said. The communication helps the states remain informed of possible threats and also helps them coordinate interstate efforts, he said. The recent concern about pandemics has snapped area leaders out of any complacency about the need for PODs, said Dan Gran, administrator of Freeman Regional Health Services. "We have been working on this for years. We get to the point where we sit back and wonder if we will ever use all of this training. Will we ever use all the equipment that is collecting dust?" he asked. "Some people believe that we are just going through the motions and nothing will ever happen. Then the 'swine flu' situation sets in. It has also allowed us to see how things in today's global society happen — and happen very quickly." Freeman provides a good location for a POD, Gran said. "In Freeman's case, the hospital's proximity to the POD site is a very good idea," he said. Rural hospitals such as Freeman provide a vital cog in disaster planning, Gran said. "You wouldn't expect everyone to migrate to a larger community when there is an outbreak," he said. "You don't want everyone heading to Yankton or Mitchell or Sioux Falls. You can imagine the chaos. The smaller facilities are playing every bit of a key role in this preparedness." During last week's regional meeting in Freeman, a wide array of government leaders, health care workers and first responders reviewed emergency needs, Gran said. "One thing very positive (about the meeting), it brought people from many different areas — the county emergency managers, the schools, the hospitals, all these different players," he said. "If (a disaster) really happens, they all play a role and work together." The recent meeting also planned for next fall's disaster exercise and POD training in Freeman, Gran said. "We want to be 100 percent. The decisions and planning are not necessarily specific to the swine flu," he said. "It could be a flood or tornado. The same principles apply." Besides providing a regional resource in case of an emergency, Gran believes his facility will strengthen its day-to-day operations through the POD training and disaster exercise. "Internally, we have seen how we would not only maintain security of the facility," he said. "We have also seen how we would, more importantly, respond to make sure the facility stayed staffed and addressed those cases that came through our door." At the neighboring Pioneer Memorial Hospital and Health Services, administrator Georgia Pokorney said her facilities offer a good network for providing emergency services. The offerings include a hospital and medical complex in Viborg and medical clinics in Centerville and Parker. The system is also building a new pharmacy in Centerville. Besides state and federal resources, Pioneer Memorial's emergency response benefits from its relationship with the Sanford Health System, Pokorney said. "We get continual updates from Sanford and their infection control department," she said. "Another big benefit of working with Sanford is that they have people in charge of planning for public health and bioterrorism." Health care facilities can play a key role in the PODs, Qualm said. "We have plans for getting medication to homebound people," he said. "There are also situations with nursing homes and hospitals." The plans also ensure reaching special populations such as American Indian tribes and Hutterite colonies, Qualm said. The PODs include coordination with the Indian Health Service and other public health officials, he said. Despite the best of planning, drills such as the upcoming exercise in Freeman provide a good test, Qualm said. "The exercises are like a review," he said. "They see that things are up to date, like making sure a site is still available and hasn't closed." The POD training and disaster drills provide the best possible preparation, Gran said. "Obviously, you hope you never have to use this (training)," he said. "But all of us are feeling better should something come up and we need to be prepared."
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