By Alex Lippa
---- — DERRY — After a Taco Bell employee was hospitalized in 2004 with hepatitis A, officials set up clinics at the Derry Municipal Center and West Running Brook Middle School to hand out vaccines.
It did not go as well as they had hoped.
“At that time it drew attention to how unprepared we were,” Fire Chief George Klauber said.
Since then, state and town officials have made it a point to make sure that they are ready if a medical emergency strikes.
Greater Derry Public Health Network and the New Hampshire Department of Public Health set up a mock “alternate care site” yesterday at West Running Brook Middle School. Local nursing students and Boy Scouts, with help from medical and emergency professionals, learned how to transform a gymnasium into an emergency center.
“If a hospital finds itself at capacity, we want to be able to take the less critical patients out of the hospital,” said Garrett Simonsen, coordinator for the Greater Derry Public Health Network, said.
Those participating learned how the maximize the number of cots in a small area and set up equipment to supply oxygen to patients.
“If there’s an emerging disease that could cause respiratory illness, they could come here,” Simonsen said. “It’s a last resort option. Should the event exceed capacity, we need to have a backup mechanism to support patient care.”
Nursing students from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Saint Anselm College took part in the exercise.
“It’s incredibly important,” said Mass. College of Pharmacy student Whitney Giauque. “This is something we could be asked to do.”
Giauque said she and her fellow students received credit for participating in the exercise.
Also participating were Alan Rich and three of his Hampstead Boy Scouts.
“This goes toward them earning their emergency response badge,” he said. “It works out that they offered this during the school vacation week.”
Simonsen said this drill was one of many being planned around the state.
“There are 13 regions and each is required to do an exercise similar to this one,” he said. “The locations vary though. One was at a fire and EMS facility. Another was at a rehab hospital.”
Klauber said it’s inevitable his department will have to set up an emergency clinic for real.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said. “At some of point in time we will have one of these outbreaks and have to use an off-site location.”
Klauber said he and other town emergency officials were mostly there to support the students, but were also keeping note on how the exercise went.
“We’ll be meeting with state and other towns to really see what went well, and what we could do better,” he said. “When you do it on paper, everything looks fine. But today is really when you do the walk-throughs and see if everything actually works.”
The exercise was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security.