Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 4, 2013

Boyd health department ready for crisis

Mike James
The Independent

CANNONSBURG — The day may never come when all 48,000 people in Boyd County need medical attention at one time, but the county health department wants to be ready just in case.

About 35 Ashland-Boyd County Health Department staffers, from nurses to clerical staff to maintenance workers, spent Friday morning at the Kyova Mall practicing procedures for administering vaccines or other medications to large numbers of people.

They did so under the eyes of evaluators from the Kentucky Department of Public Health, which requires the exercise once every five years. The last time the local department practiced was in 2008.

Lessons learned in the full-scale exercise would be useful in a pandemic, following a bioterrorism attack, or in the aftermath of a flood or other natural disaster, said health department epidemiologist Kristy Bolen.

For instance, an anthrax attack would leave the department with about 48 hours to treat as many people as possible, she said.

The key to the exercise is routing people as efficiently as possible through treatment stations, using the same procedures as the drive-through flu vaccine clinics in 2008.

Workers set up multiple lanes in the mall’s rear parking lot with portable traffic cones to funnel cars to the stations.

Everyone helped with the grunt work, Bolen said. “You may be a nurse from nine to five Monday through Friday, but here you may be the person putting out the cones,” she said.

About half of the department’s staff have come on board since 2008 and were participating for the first time.

Among the lessons from the 2008 drive-through flu clinic was that people tend to show up hours before the treatment commences, which means health workers have to plan accordingly.

Also, based on that clinic, the department estimates it can treat about 700 people per hour, Bolen said.

The drive-through system has proven to be the most effective in maintaining order and public composure, Bolen said. People stay calmer and are more willing to wait in line in their own cars.

The Kyova lot is where the department would set up for an actual emergency event, Bolen said.

Following the exercise, workers huddled with evaluators to discuss the morning’s work and plan improvements.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.