"Now more than ever, public health must play a key role in homeland security," states Terrie C. Wright, Southeastern Utah's Emergency Preparedness Planner/Coordinator. "We need a strong, public health system to detect and control outbreaks whether they result from bioterrorism or occur naturally. This means well-trained people working effectively together.
"We're on the front lines in responding to many public health emergencies. Because we are out in the community on a daily basis, it may be we will receive the first indication of a bioterrorism event. This could be through an epidemiology surveillance system, contact with local physicians or hospital, or by seeing a patient in one of our clinics," said. Wright.
The Utah Department of Health has been awarded two grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that provide public health funds to prevent and respond to acts of bioterrorism in Utah. Southeastern Utah District Health Department, along with Utah's 11 other local health departments and the UDOH received $9.97 million to enhance public health systems and resources. In addition to the CDC funding, the Health Resources and Services Administration also awarded a grant of approximately $1.1 million to Utah to help hospitals and clinics develop their response capacity by increasing education, equipment and supplies. The $9.97 million grant will provide personnel, training, equipment and other resources to state and local health departments. SEUDHDs activitites for the grants began with the hiring of Wright as the Emergency Preparedness Planner/Coordinator.
"In order to accomplish all the activities covered in the grant, we will be working closely with the hospitals, first responders, law enforcement and others to develop well thought-out plans that will help protect people in our district during an emergency," said Wright.
"The grant monies will enhance our abilities to recognize and respond to natural or unintentionally caused outbreaks of disease like influenza and food poisoning as well as intentional or terrorist acts involving anthrax or other bioterrorist agents," said Wright.
The grant has six focus areas: preparedness planning and readiness assessment; surveillance and epidemiology capacity; laboratory capacity involving biological agents; health alert network/communications technology; communication health risk and health information dissemination; and education and training.
"If a large scale infectious disease outbreak were to occur within our district your local health department officials along with the hospital, emergency medical services and others would activate a set of private, local, state and federal emergency response plans. Many of these plans are in the revision process and require further practical testing. In the weeks to come we will be involved with tabletop and practical exercises and drills, both internally and with our community partners," said Wright.
These plans will address the handling of samples, decontamination strategies, distribution of needed isolation and quarantine authority and techinques, request and activation of federal assistance, alternative communication mechanisms, and many other aspects of the health system reponses as a major community emergency situation.
SEUDHD has the largest geographic area of any of the 12 local health departments. In order to meet the needs of the four counties within it's boundaries, David Black has been hired as an Assistant Emergency Preparedness Planner/Coordinator.
For more information contact Terrie C. Wright at the Price office by calling 435-637-3671 or David Black in Castle Dale at 435-381-2252.