By WANDA REESE
Capital News Service
LANSING – The threat of bioterrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks have lawmakers and public health agencies scrambling to upgrade community disaster plans.
In Michigan, those plans include a renewed focus on training programs designed to handle biological terrorism emergencies.
The Michigan Department of Community Health offers an intensive training program for physicians and other health care providers. The course identifies biological substances considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be the most likely to be used in a bioterrorist attack.
“Most doctors have never seen people with anthrax, botulism, plague or smallpox,” said David R. Johnson, chief medical executive of MDCH. “This makes it even more important for physicians to take advantage of this special training and review the diagnosis and management of these conditions.”
Physicians who participate in the program are eligible for continuing medical education credit. The course is a cooperative effort with the Michigan Association of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.
“Bioterrorism issues and concerns are evolving very rapidly, making it even more important for physicians to continue to update their knowledge and skills in this important area,” Johnson said.
The first line of defense and coordinator of emergency response in the event of an outbreak, is the Michigan State Police, whose emergency management-training program has always included response to terrorist events. Many states address training for bioterror emergencies separately from standard disasters in their procedures manuals.
“Right now, we’re developing a regional response network,” said Robert Sauer, coordinator for weapons of mass destruction for the State Police. “Based on a survey, we selected existing hazardous response teams and bolstered their training and equipment capabilities.”
Sauer said the difficulty in effectively preparing for a biological emergency is that the agent could be deployed days before being detected.
“Are we prepared? We’re working on preparedness,” said Janet Eng, an emergency physician and medical toxicologist at Ingham Regional Medical Center. She also represents a number of committees and a task force that explores ways to handle bioterror emergencies.
“We never really know how prepared we are until the event hits,” she said. “Part of the dilemma is anticipating the many types of agents that could be used.”
Eng said one result of the Sept. 11 attacks has been the creation of the Ingham Security Council. Formed by health care professionals from IMRC, the group’s goal is to address bioterror events before they take place.
Sparrow Health System’s policy involves a cooperative uniform plan that includes emergency personnel, government officials and other health care providers.
“Responding to an act of bioterrorism requires all of these entities to work collaboratively,” said Lorri Rishar, Sparrow director of community relations.
The disaster plan at Northern Michigan Hospital in Petoskey, includes tips for recognizing bioterrorist infection agents, and handling mail.
“We have a hospital disaster plan in place in draft format, but is very usable and would be implemented if occasion requires before officially approved,” said Ruth Terbush-Nelle, coordinator of infection control. “It’s designed to complement the overall hospital disaster plan, which is being overhauled as we speak.”
Michigan recently received a $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for stronger public health preparedness for bioterrorism, one of the largest grant awards in the nation.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By WANDA REESE