Health Department Tests Emergency Response Plan

MIDDLESEX COUNTY—County officials tested a new model for the County Public Health Department’s Pharmaceutical Distribution Program, which would be used during mass emergency situations.

Evaluation of the test, held Monday morning during a functional exercise in Monroe Township, will provide valuable information for state and local health departments to use in their ongoing emergency preparedness planning.

The model tested on June 22, known as a Justified Emergency Mass Prophylaxis Point of Distribution or JEM POD, also could be used to distribute influenza vaccine in a pandemic, such as novel H1N1 virus, if needed.

Middlesex County Freeholder Ronald G. Rios, chair of the County’s Public Health and Education Committee, said: “The Public Health Department continues to test itself and its procedures so that we may ensure an effective, efficient response to any type of emergency. The medication distribution model exercised today will be able to be used in any community facility and for any number of situations.”

The County Public Health Department, County Office of Emergency Management, Monroe Office of Emergency Management, Monroe Rescue First Aid Squad, Monroe Police Department and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital participated in the exercise, which simulated response to an Anthrax attack.

“It is very important for various county departments and our local partners to work together to make sure that we all are ready if an emergency happens,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Director Stephen J. Dalina.

“Working as a team for drills and exercises will strengthen our response if a critical event occurs.”

“Monroe Township is pleased to be able to support the county in its efforts to enhance its emergency response capabilities,” said Township Administrator Wayne Hamilton. “We share the county’s goal in developing emergency policies and procedures and revising them when necessary so that we can best serve our residents’ public safety needs.”

The new distribution method requires fewer staff and should accommodate a higher number of patients per hour than the traditional method, said David A. Papi, Director-Health Officer of the Middlesex County Public Health Department. The new program was produced by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

“The JEM POD model is much more condensed and has been designed to rapidly and safely distribute medications to as many people as possible during a public health emergency,” Papi said.

He said a traditional POD would need about 80 people to operate; a JEM POD would require about 27.  It is estimated that 400 people could be accommodated per hour.

During the exercise, participants went through two stations. The first station called “Reception/Triage” directed participants to either the “Evaluation/Distribution” station or the “Assistance Needed” station. At the “Evaluation/Distribution” station, the individuals are asked medical questions and then receive medication for themselves and up to five household members.

The “Assistance Needed” station was designated to provide services to elderly, disabled and non-English speaking populations. If necessary, persons can also utilize the “Health Education” station before exiting. At this station Health Educators will be available to answer questions or distribute fact sheets about the disease and medications.

Medications that would be distributed during an actual POD or JEM POD process are Ciprofloxacin and Doxycycline. These medications will be used as prophylaxis, meaning that people will take these medicines to prevent illness.

Papi said, “I strongly encourage residents to talk to their doctors and find out if they can safely take Ciprofloxacin or Doxycycline during a public health emergency. If you or a family member cannot take these medications, your doctor could prescribe another antibiotic. It is important for all community members to be informed, prepared, and ready to respond to an emergency.  By developing a family emergency plan ahead of time, you can help protect the safety and well-being of yourself, your loved ones and your community.”

After the exercise, participants, staff, dignitaries, volunteers and the media viewed the Middlesex County Public Health Department’s mobile medical clinic. The mobile clinic will be used to provide routine clinical services within community settings.  During a public health emergency, the mobile clinic could be used as a command post and also provide needed medical supplies to county residents.

Papi said the mobile clinic could also be used to distributed influenza vaccinations this fall.

“Additionally, the mobile clinic will be able to deliver medical supplies to any area in the county for the protection of the public’s health,” Rios said.

The Middlesex County Public Health Department, with help from the County Office of Emergency Management, State Health Department officials, Monroe Township and Robert Wood John University Hospital, tested on Monday its capabilities to distribute mass quantities of medication in an emergency situation. Volunteers were ushered through a new distribution model developed by the state. The model needs fewer staffers to operate and is expected to accommodate about 400 patients per hour. (Photo courtesy of Middlesex County)

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