University of New England Works with State and Community Partners for Public Health Emergency Preparedness Exercises

UNE osteopathic medicine student adminsters a flu vaccine at the October 20th Alternate Care Site emergency preparedness exercise located at UNE's Biddeford campus center gymnasium.

UNE osteopathic medicine student Justin Doroshenko adminsters a flu vaccine at the October 20th Alternate Care Site (ACS) emergency preparedness exercise located at UNE’s Biddeford campus center gymnasium.  This was the first time that an ACS exercise had been conducted in Maine.

The University of New England recently hosted two public health emergency preparedness training exercises in collaboration with state and community partners, offering free influenza vaccinations to the UNE community and public as part of the events. This is the second year in a row that UNE has partnered with local and state public health agencies to conduct a public health emergency preparedness exercise in order to be better prepared in the event of a real public health emergency. “For several years UNE has registered to be part of a volunteer network of Points of Distribution, or PODs, that will serve as centers for administering medicines, vaccines, and/or necessary supplies for the public in the event of a large-scale emergency”, explained Dora Anne Mills, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, vice president for Clinical Affairs and director of UNE’s Center for Health Innovation. “To fully prepare for such an event, UNE faculty, staff, and students work in collaboration with state and community partners to simulate such an event, and offer free influenza vaccines to the public as part of the exercise.”

On October 20th, 2017, the UNE Biddeford Campus Center gymnasium was converted into an Alternate Care Site (ACS), a temporary medical system that is established to provide low-acuity care during a public health emergency. UNE students from four of UNE’s six colleges participated in the exercise to learn some of the principles of emergency preparedness planning from State officials.  A large turnout of people looking to receive their flu vaccine allowed medical and pharmacy students to administer vaccines to more than 225 UNE students, faculty, and staff.  Jessica Rehrig, a second year osteopathic medical student in UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine said “It is reassuring, both as a student physician and a member of the community, to know that adequate policies and procedures are in place to accommodate patients in the event of a medical surge or state-wide emergency.”

ACS exercise overview smaller copy

The UNE campus center gymnasium was converted into a temporary medical system to provide flu vaccines to the public. Several local and state public health agencies participated in the exercise, including the Maine DOT who delivered the durable medical supplies shown here to Biddeford from a warehouse in Augusta.

The October 20th ACS exercise represents a milestone as the first deployment of a multi agency scenario for the newly established York County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a partnership between the greater York County community and UNE.  It was also the first time Maine had implemented a test of the ACS system. “Maine CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program (PHEP) purchased these modules as a way to provide emergency medical assistance in the event of a real response situation. These modules are designed to assist in the immediate response effort, as in help until help arrives, when Federal Medical Systems cache can be deployed”, says Patrick Furey, Maine CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness Exercise and Training Coordinator. “It was great working with UNE faculty, staff, and students, area Walgreens Pharmacy staff and management, as well as Maine’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers at this exercise.”

One week later, on October 27th, 2017, the newly renovated Innovation Hall at UNE’s Portland Campus was converted to a Point of Dispensing (POD) site where influenza vaccine was once again administered to community members.  Medical, pharmacy, nursing, and public health students helped staff the exercise.  Valerie Bedard, a senior nursing student in UNE’s Westbrook College of Health Professions said “As a student here, it is wonderful to see that UNE is proactively thinking about how it will take care of the community in the event of an emergency. I really enjoyed learning from, with, and about my medical and pharmacy student peers as well as from the local and state public health community.”

A Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise was conducted on October 27th in UNE's newly renovated Innovation Hall.

A Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise was conducted on October 27th 2017 in UNE’s newly renovated Innovation Hall.

Caity Hager, from Maine’s Cities Readiness Initiative based out of the City of Portland, helped coordinate last years POD exercise on the UNE Biddeford campus and was able to use some of the lessons learned from last year to improve upon this years exercise. “Partnering with UNE to conduct similar exercises two years in a row allows the Maine Cities Readiness Initiative to improve and strengthen our plans to respond to this type of emergency”, said Hager. “We have been improving and refining procedures based on feedback from last year’s exercise and it is important for our program to have the opportunity to exercise the changes and evaluate the improvements to our plans.”

Caity Hager from Maine's Cities Readiness Initiative provides a "Just-in-time" orienation training for the staff members who volunteered to operate the exercise.

Caity Hager from Maine’s Cities Readiness Initiative provides a “Just-in-time” orientation training for the staff members who volunteered to help operate the exercise.

In total, more than 350 people receive an influenza vaccine at these exercises. A partnership with Walgreens and UNE’s Health Services ensured that there was enough vaccine supply to dispense to the public at the exercises. Several employees from Walgreens, including seven licensed pharmacists, donated there time to help staff crucial clinical and non-clinical roles at both exercises.  Heather Stewart, an alumnus of UNE’s College of Pharmacy Class of 2014, and current Walgreens pharmacist, says that her time at UNE as a student helped instill the importance of influenza surveillance as a tool to keep the public healthy.  “Influenza is a vaccine preventable virus that has significant public health consequences including decreased productivity, and increased morbidity, mortality, and healthcare expenditures.  Events such as the ACS and POD exercises not only prepare our First Responders for a large scale emergency but they also increase ease of access by creating another public health environment for patients to obtain their influenza immunization.”, said Stewart.

Heather Stewart, PharmD, provides a workshop on proper flu vaccine administration techniques to UNE healthcare students.

Heather Stewart, PharmD, provides a workshop on proper flu vaccine administration techniques to UNE healthcare students.

These exercises are done in collaboration with a number of partners, including: Maine CDC, York and Cumberland District Public Health Councils, Emergency Management Agencys, the City of Portland’s Maine Cities Readiness Initiative, area Walgreens pharmacists and management, and Maine Responds (Maine’s emergency health volunteer system). “As part of this initiative, UNE’s Center for Health Innovation works collaboratively with our health professions programs as well as state and community partners to provide learning experiences for our students. A number of medical, public health, nursing, pharmacy, and other students attend sessions run by emergency preparedness experts and assist in administering vaccines,” said Mills. “As a result, southern Maine will be better prepared for an emergency today, and tomorrow’s health professionals will also be better prepared.”

To learn more about the Center for Excellence in Health Innovation, visit: www.une.edu/academics/centers-institutes/center-excellence-health-innovation

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