Hospitals prepare for potential pandemic

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(Host)   With concern over a potential swine flu pandemic growing, hospitals across the country are gearing up, by fine tuning their emergency response plans.    While no cases have been reported in Vermont, swine flu has been identified in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and New York.

VPR’s Nina Keck spoke with hospital officials in Rutland and filed this report.

(Keck)    Denise Simpson stands near the entrance to Rutland Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Department.

(Simpson) "And our normal waiting room is to my left here, but to my right is a special waiting room in the event we’d need to separate potentially infectious patients if they had to wait."

(Keck)    Simpson is infection control practitioner for the hospital.   It’s her job to make sure infections aren’t spread.   She and other staff members at Rutland Regional Medical Center have been reviewing the hospital’s disaster plans, conferring with state agencies and running what they call table top drills to try and envision all the different scenarios they might encounter with swine flu.   Dr. Kirk Dufty directs the hospital’s emergency department.

(Dufty) "Can you truly practice a true pandemic flu that 10 percent of your population in the US is infected with?   You can’t, it’s all computer modeling — trying to figure out how to best use your resources.   And then to also look at the places where people made big mistakes in those drills."

(Keck)   Because he says learning from those mistakes can help hospital personnel make the right decisions during an actual crisis.   Dufty says Rutland is fortunate in that its newly renovated emergency department is state of the art, with several rooms designed with negative air pressure.   That’s a technology that pushes air out through filters that trap any pathogens.   Dufty says, ironically, it was another health scare – anthrax in 2001 – that pushed hospitals to install these types of innovations.

(Dufty) "The Anthrax really stimulated medical staff to understand the risk of all this.  Really looking into personal protection, making sure hospitals were up to date with negative pressure rooms.   It really was one of the accelerating things on getting better national plans for pandemic flu."

(Keck)   Dufty says the Anthrax scare also showed how important it is to get fast, accurate information out to the public.   Both he and Denise Simpson say local, state and federal agencies have done a good job with swine flu.   But Simpson says balance is key.

(Simpson) "You have to be sure to keep it at a level that doesn’t create panic but gets the right information.  It sounds very simple, but it’s actually very complicated and we walk that balance every day."

(Keck)    For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.       

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