Hospitals statewide to participate in all-day medical surge exercise led by Health Department

For Immediate Release: June 9, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - For one day, on Wednesday, June 11, hospitals around the state will test their plans to respond to a surge of patients with a pandemic strain of influenza in coordination with the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Emergency Management.

More than 100 hospital, public health and state government officials will play out their roles in the simulated emergency, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Media are invited to attend the event at the Health Operations Center, which will be set up at Health Department's Burlington offices on 108 Cherry Street.

The Health Operations Center in Burlington and the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury will coordinate the emergency response of hospitals to handle a surge of patients up to 30 percent beyond the average daily census. Also tested will be disease surveillance, investigation and control measures, rapid exchange of information among health professionals and the simulated delivery of timely, accurate and useful information to health care providers and the public.

Full details of the exercise scenario are known only to a few state employees and hospital personnel.

“Throughout the day, hospitals and the state government will test incident command systems and multiple pandemic response plans as we work to respond quickly and effectively to control the spread of illness,” said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. “Pandemic influenza will require a rapid and well coordinated response and we expect to make a lot of improvements as a result of what we learn from this exercise.”

Pandemic influenza is a worldwide outbreak of a new and severe strain of influenza that can spread easily from person to person. The current H5N1 strain of avian influenza that has caused illness and death in birds and people overseas is not a pandemic, because it does not spread easily from person to person. However, experts are concerned that this or another novel strain of influenza could mutate to a form that spreads easily from person to person and causes severe illness around the world.

"This is why Vermont and governments around the world are working so hard to prepare for the possibility of pandemic," said Moffatt.

The Health Department has tested its pandemic flu plans with health, hospital and emergency officials multiple times beginning with a tabletop exercise in June 2005, and continuing with a large-scale two-week exercise "Operation Pandemic Flu" in July 2006 that involved hundreds of responders.

Other partner agencies that will play a major role in the exercise are the Vermont National Guard, the Department of Public Safety, and the Agency of Transportation.

The exercise is funded by the Vermont Department of Health, through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Hospital Preparedness Program and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program, and Homeland Security.

More information on pandemic flu is available at the Health Department's website at http://HealthVermont.gov, or the national website at: http://www.pandemicflu.gov.

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