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Patients 'infected' to test post readiness
Fort Stewart tests triage model
Youth Challenge Academy students convincingly play the role of patients suffering from a contagious and lethal influenza virus during a medical exercise on Fort Stewart. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
One Youth Challenge Academy student doubled over with a hacking cough Thursday morning. Another shivered in the warm early fall sunlight, hugging himself and complaining of chills. The sniffling, sneezing teens appeared to be feeling absolutely miserable as they trudged up the stairs into Fort Stewart’s Dental Clinic 1.
Other patients — active duty soldiers — were seated inside the clinic’s dental bays, where masked dentists and dental assistants assessed and treated their flu-like symptoms.
“Due to these vitals, we’re going to put you on oxygen and start you on Tylenol to get your fever down, and liquids to keep you hydrated,” Capt. Allyson Hooper, an Army dentist, told one patient. Hooper screened patients all morning, posing to each the same long list of detailed questions regarding their symptoms and medical and personal histories.
“In the military, that’s (triage) our second job,” she said. Army dentists are medically trained to triage patients in the field, to treat casualties and administer care during mass pandemics, Hooper said.
The triage clinic patients weren’t really sick. They were actually healthy role players pretending to suffer from a highly contagious and lethal influenza virus as part of the installation’s pandemic flu exercise.
The triage was held at the post dental clinic to prevent flu patients from overwhelming Winn Army Community Hospital, said Terri McGowen, assistant public health emergency officer. McGowen said Fort Stewart’s triage clinic will be used as a model for other Army installations.
“This year, we wanted to practice a different component of our Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield pandemic influenza contingency plan,” she said.
McGowen said last year’s drive-through shot clinic was one component and this year’s triage is another. Next year, the installation will focus on its alternate treatment facility, which will be set up at Britton Elementary School. In case of an actual pandemic, the ATF would open to house recovering soldiers and military family members, she said.
During the triage clinic, several of the 50 role players were sent to Winn’s emergency room, McGowen said. One of the patients was “treated” in the intensive care unit and another was scripted to “die.” Most were “treated” at the dental clinic and sent home and some were sent to the ATF.
“Last year, we had a true pandemic. We had a new virus,” said Maj. (Dr.) Shannon Ellis, exercise director and chief of preventative medicine at Winn Army Community Hospital. Ellis said last year’s H1N1 flu virus was highly contagious, but was not considered lethal as most cases were mild. A worst case scenario is to have a virus that is both contagious and lethal, he said.
Ellis said H1N1 is transmitted easily from person to person, and was likely first spread among young children in day care centers and schools. This is why immunizing children is so important, he said.
“We’re focusing on children this year. It’s really key,” the chief said. “That’s the front line.”
Ellis said the installation’s goal is to vaccinate 70 percent of Fort Stewart’s children this year. Last year, 30 percent were vaccinated.
“I know 30 percent sounds low but it’s not,” he said. “H1N1 is a recommended vaccine. It’s not one of your required vaccines.”
Ellis said the hospital received most of its influenza vaccine supply for adults on Monday. It’s awaiting more doses of vaccine for its pediatric patients, he said.
“We will receive 43,000 doses for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield,” Ellis said. Fort Stewart medical officials hope to vaccinate 95 percent of soldiers and post health-care workers by Dec. 1. Redeploying soldiers will be vaccinated “as soon as they hit the door,” Ellis said.
The hospital’s chief of preventative medicine added most of the installations’ expectant mothers should be immunized within the next month, as part of their regular checkups. Ellis said about 30 percent of Fort Stewart’s pregnant women were vaccinated for the flu last year.
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