New Bern – INTRO - The state Department of Health and Human Services predicts an influenza pandemic could affect nearly 3-million state residents and a severe outbreak could result in 65,000 deaths. When that pandemic could strike the state is a mystery, so preparations for the event are underway. George Olsen has more.
A state plan for dealing with an influenza pandemic is very direct when it says The threat of pandemic influenza is not as much a question of if, but rather a question of when. Locally medical concerns met the first week of April at Pitt County Memorial Hospital to discuss their plans for dealing with pandemic flu.
04:57 One thing the hospitals are being encouraged is to be self sufficient which is very difficult to try and plan for something that large a scale, because we have no idea of knowing what the true outcome will be.
Kiplan Clemmons is director of emergency management at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.
04:57 ct'd For example, hospitals are being encouraged to come up with a 3-month supply and store medications and consumables and equipment that will be needed. But then you run into the major cost factor and who is going to fund that. Then not only do you have the cost factor but where is it going to be stored and how are we going to logistically manage all that equipment, rotate it so the expiration dates don't expire, so those are the types of things we're facing.
Cost is a definite concern. Clemmons says PCMH's initial estimate of having a 3-month backlog of supplies on hand to deal with a pandemic is currently at 1-point-4 million dollars. Another concern is having personnel on hand to deal with a crush of patients doubly a concern because personnel won't be immune to the virus.
07:48 Because they say at that time we may have a 40% reduction in our work staff, and so how would you be able to manage your normal day-to-day operations if 40% of your staff can't get to work.
Typical flu vaccine may not be of much help during a pandemic, as the definition of a pandemic involves an outbreak of flu for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine according to a U-S Department of Health and Human Services website devoted to pandemic flu. Because of this, combating pandemic flu will in many cases come down to some of the same steps used to combat a normal flu outbreak.
09:24 One of the things that will help with that if there's a large campaign to educate the public on what to expect if this were to occur in our community, and one of the things that's being encouraged is home care and have information out now so that if this happens even 10 years from now then someone will pull out the information and say this is what I have to do.
Much of that information would be what's typically recommended for treating the flu plenty of rest and keeping hydrated, for example. Home care will be encouraged to keep hospital space reserved for those most in need, though when that point will be reached for a flu victim is a question mark because of the nature of pandemic flu.
10:54 We have to realize this virus could mutate, the symptoms may be different than what we think they'll be so it's difficult to say at this time.
Managing the pandemic will also not only require good communication between health providers and the public, but between health providers themselves.
21:13 For example in each county make sure that the public health department is talking to the hospital, the hospital is talking to emergency management, because each of those entities have a plan written, and we need to make sure that if we're written in someone else's plan, we can provide the function that's written into the plan.
PCMH's plan is written and approved though constantly being modified. It hasn't been subjected to a dry run as of yet that's expected in the next 6-to-8 months. Much remains to be done, but the intent is that it will be done, as area health officials are looking at the pandemic much as the state is not if, but when.
11:27 Well, the history has shown this type of event occurs every 40-50 years. The initial, or the first event that occurred was in 1918, then there was another event that occurred in '68 or '69 that wasn't as large, so we're in that 40-50 year window.
Kiplan Clemmons is director of emergency management at Pitt County Memorial Hospital. I'm George Olsen.