Pandemic training helps Mountain States team prepare – just in case


Planning for how to react to a pandemic seems like the stuff of Hollywood. Think "Contagion" or “The Stand" for good movie examples. But widespread, contagious diseases are real, so local healthcare organizations have to be prepared – just in case.

“We live in a time when there’s more worldwide travel than ever, with people going to remote areas of the world, and they can be exposed to things people never used be exposed to,” said Jamie Swift, corporate director for Infection Prevention at Mountain States Health Alliance. “It would be foolish to think we'll never have another pandemic. So we want to be sure whenever something comes up, we’re ready.”

Diseases like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), novel influenzas and other emerging diseases are real threats, and preparation is the key.

That’s why Mountain States sent its Infection Prevention Department team for high-level training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala., which is operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Five members of Mountain States’ Infection Prevention team have already received intensive training: Swift, Tracey Rhodes, Patty Rider and Shannon Tipton from Johnson City Medical Center, and Eryn Carothers from Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethton. The rest of the team is scheduled to attend soon.

The training trip was funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

“We already have a good pandemic plan in place at Mountain States, and we had a director look at it during the training session in Alabama, and he said it was a very good plan," Swift said. “But this was a chance to refine it and just make sure we can carry it out. It's truly about the planning process and about taking a look at your plan.”

The Mountain States team’s training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness comprised several days of lectures followed by a full-blown exercise of reacting to a pandemic in real time.

“This meant putting your plan into play,” Swift said. “You can say what you’re going to do and you can do table-top exercises, but what’s it really like to live it? Is it really feasible? It’s a real-world setting and you can't simulate it any better than what they do down there.”

The team had to react quickly, call all the appropriate people and organizations and follow proper protocol. An incident command was set up and news flashed across the TV. An 8-year-old has died. Now a 16-year-old. Cases have surged to well over 100 in your city. Who do you call and what procedures do you initiate?

The training session also threw several twists into the situation and forced the team to deal with issues like the hospital CEO coming down with the disease, or 30 percent of the hospital staff being infected. When do you restrict visitors to the hospital? How do you manage increased demand on key hospital departments like ICU or the morgue?

Swift said the team returned from the experience ready to make some tweaks to Mountain States’ plan, and with a better perspective on what it would be like if a pandemic occurred. They also have renewed confidence that they can follow through with the plan. If something happens, she said, “We’ll be ready.”

Photo ID, L-R: Shannon Tipton, Tracey Rhodes, Jamie Swift, Eryn Carothers, Patty Ryder


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