Emergency Preparedness Efforts with Skilled Nursing Facilities Underway
May 8, 2006
To be sure that the most vulnerable members of their community are cared for during a health emergency, one local health department has mobilized a group of nursing students to conduct a survey and planning campaign.
Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) Health Emergency Response Unit is working with 10 nursing students from Samuel Merritt College School of Nursing to visit most of the 32 Skilled Nursing Facilities across the County. The health department is also mapping the facilities to see how many of them are near fault lines and chemical plants and refineries. Skilled nursing facilities provide professional nursing around the clock, usually along with rehabilitation therapy.
"This is a much needed project," says Kim Cox, CCHS' Health Emergency Response Coordinator. "We want to help these facilities which serve people who are very ill and not mobile have plans in place to respond to a health emergency or a natural disaster."
Health officials have predicted that it is only a matter of time before avian (bird) flu, already in birds in Asia, Europe and other places, arrives in the United States. If the virus - H5N1 - mutates - it could be spread by person-to-person contact, leading to a pandemic influenza outbreak.
Cox says the skilled nursing facility project is just one component of the County's effort to prepare for a flu pandemic. Planning is also in progress with schools, local hospitals, businesses and other groups.
"It is clear that we must get ready now for what could be a health emergency that would overwhelm our hospitals and other health providers. Everyone must be ready to care for themselves and their communities," says Cox.
The students who are working with the skilled nursing facilities are part of the Samuel Merritt College community health nursing program. They are spending nine hours a week for 15 weeks working with the health department, learning about potential threats to the health and safety of residents and how the county health department and other agencies respond to emergencies and visiting the facilities. They work in teams, going to the facilities, asking questions and writing up their findings.
"Our company is very well prepared for emergencies," said Dr. John Galick, Senior Administrator for Manorcare Health Services in Walnut Creek. "That said, some of the questions posed by the nursing students were thought provoking and made me double check what we're doing. I'll be incorporating some of the students' suggestions into our next drill."
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