San Juan Basin Public Health conducts exercise to distribute medicine

Agency practices dispensing medication to address outbreak

Collin Parker, left, receives an empty bottle from Ashley Gonzales of what would be antibiotics during a drill to simulate a public health emergency at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. San Juan Basin Public Health held its Phed-Ex exercise Friday to practice dispensing medication in case of an outbreak. Enlarge photo

Melanie Brubaker Mazur/Pine River Times

Collin Parker, left, receives an empty bottle from Ashley Gonzales of what would be antibiotics during a drill to simulate a public health emergency at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. San Juan Basin Public Health held its Phed-Ex exercise Friday to practice dispensing medication in case of an outbreak.

If an outbreak of a respiratory infection affected Southwest Colorado, how would officials in this isolated area of the state receive and distribute medications to treat or prevent it?

That was the point of Friday’s Phed-Ex, a statewide exercise coordinated locally by San Juan Basin Public Health. For three days, public health officials cooperated with local hospitals and other agencies on how they would distribute medicine to large segments of the population.

Just as if the real thing happened, San Juan Basin Public Health ordered the medicines on Thursday, they arrived later that day via airplane from Denver, and they were transported to various distribution centers in the county. On Friday, they were distributed to about 150 volunteers at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.

“We’re testing the mobilization of resources at the state and local level,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of the public heath agency. Actually, the practice went a little quicker than a real distribution, but it gives local health providers practice in ordering, receiving and distributing drugs during an emergency.

“If you don’t practice, you don’t know what you can do,” said one of the volunteers, Keith Roush of Durango, a retired first-responder. He’s worked on response exercises for search and rescue, as well as emergency management and airport emergency responses.

“It was pretty efficient,” he said of Friday’s exercise. “Quick and simple.”

Volunteers were greeted at the door and filled out a health form. If they didn’t have underlying health issues, they were given an empty bottle of an antibiotic, along with instructions for dosage. The volunteers had to return the bottle to get a free lunch. Volunteers also received a first-aid kit and had the chance to win door prizes.

Such a distribution center would be used for people who were still healthy during an outbreak, Jollon said. Those showing signs of sickness would be directed a hospital or clinic.

Such exercises are called PODs, for point of distribution, said Claire Ninde, the planning and communications director for San Juan Basin Public Health.

The agency has practiced PODs in the past when it conducted vaccination clinics, she said.

The exercises were conducted statewide with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

For more information about Phed-Ex, go to www.sjbpublichealth.org.

Ashley Gonzales, the medical clinic manager at San Juan Basin Public Health, displays empty bottles of antibiotics she distributed. Enlarge photo

Melanie Brubaker Mazur/Pine River Times

Ashley Gonzales, the medical clinic manager at San Juan Basin Public Health, displays empty bottles of antibiotics she distributed.

Ashley Gonzales, left, and Claire Ninde of San Juan Basin Public Health discuss Friday’s Phed-Ex event, an exercise in dispensing medications to the public. Enlarge photo

Melanie Brubaker Mazur/Pine River Times

Ashley Gonzales, left, and Claire Ninde of San Juan Basin Public Health discuss Friday’s Phed-Ex event, an exercise in dispensing medications to the public.

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