DALTON, Ga. — A grown man sat in the emergency room at Hamilton Medical Center here Wednesday and cried out, “I want my mommy.”
He was only acting childishly, part of his role in a pandemic flu exercise. About 40 mock patients complained of fevers and pains to give the hospital practice for a major outbreak.
“It’s organized chaos,” said registered nurse Scottie Frost. “We take them one at a time and get them where they need to be.”
The drill was the largest of a half dozen practice runs held at the hospital in the last two years. The crowd gave hospital workers an opportunity to open an overflow room for the first time.
“Every time that we have a drill ... we always see a way we can do something a little bit better, and every time we have a drill we feel we are little more prepared if the actual event happens,” said Matthew Crumpton, trauma coordinator at Hamilton Medical Center.
Health workers were joined by police officials and firefighters in the regional test of response capabilities for Catoosa, Dade, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, Pickens, Walker and Whitfield counties.
School officials also joined in Wednesday’s pandemic flu exercise.
Teachers recorded online lessons for students at middle and elementary school levels.
Students listened with headphones and weren’t allowed to ask questions, mimicking the experience of learning at home they might experience if schools were to close for up to a year during a pandemic.
“One of the things that will happen during a pandemic flu outbreak is what we call social distancing,” said Ron Hernandez, director of emergency preparedness for the North Georgia Health District. “We are looking at a disease that is very dangerous and contagious, and the guiding principle is keeping the sick people away from the well people.”
Mock patients for Wednesday’s drill were recruited from the Dalton Career Academy and Dalton State College’s nursing program.
“This gives you a realistic view of what goes on,” said nursing student Jennifer Sweatman, who had the role of a dehydrated 18-month-old baby. “It’s good to know. Next time I’m going to be on the other side of things.”
Mr. Crumpton said nursing students could quickly be launched into their careers were a pandemic to occur. He said an all-hands-on-deck tactic was employed during the 1918 flu outbreak that killed 50 million people.
It was one of three flu pandemics in the last century, with the most recent being in 1968.
Hamilton Medical President John Bowling said a new flu pandemic is “a looming threat.”
“It poses a question of not if, but when, frankly, we will have the next pandemic epidemic,” he said. “(Health) officials believe it is just a matter of time when this occurs, and I think they would agree that it is overdue.”
WHAT IS PANDEMIC FLU?
Pandemic flu is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak of serious illness. There is little natural immunity, and the disease can spread easily.
Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.