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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI’s mock emergency response clinic easily exceeds goal for patient participation

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON -- April 7, 2004 -- The emergency response clinic put into action Friday, April 2 at the University of Rhode Island in response to a simulated anthrax attack easily exceeded its goal for participation by processing 1,428 "patients" in close to a six-hour period.

When clinic organizers began planning for the clinic drill last fall, they had set a goal of 1,000 patient volunteers, which even with that number would have made it one of the most ambitious exercises of its kind in the region.

"We can confidently state today (April 2) that the University has conducted the largest mock drug distribution clinic in New England, and the URI drill is now among one of the largest in the country. We believe we are the only educational institution in the country to have done this," said Thomas Mather, URI professor of entomology and incident commander for the exercise.

The mock clinic, staged in Keaney Gymnasium, opened its doors at 8:30 a.m. and closed them at 2:15 p.m. By 11 a.m., it had processed 560 patients, and by 1 p.m., the clinic exceeded its goal by processing 1,132 patients. Every major news outlet in the state covered the exercise, with several reporters completing the drill as "patients."

In terms of efficiency, the drill did better than original projections by organizers. They hoped to process "patients" through in 15 minutes, but an efficiency team run by URI students determined that those with no medical issues made it through in 8 minutes, while those with specific "medical needs" took 14 and 1/2 minutes from start to finish.

"This mock distribution clinic exercise today was an excellent test of our capabilities and a testament to what can be accomplished with cooperation from the entire University community and our partners at the (Rhode Island) Health Department," Mather said "It is apparent that within a six-hour period of time, we could have processed at least five times as many patients."

Throughout the day representatives from the federal Centers for Disease Control, the Strategic National Stockpile, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and local and regional municipalities and agencies were on hand.

"Each municipality needs not only to develop a plan, but to practice it because each facility will have its own unique circumstances," said Mather.

Nancy Doyle-Moss, URI clinical nurse instructor and operations and logistical coordinator, was tired at the end of the exercise, but satisfied with the results.

"The clinic went well beyond our expectations," she said. "We couldn’t be more pleased with the level of participation among the volunteer staff and patients. The morale and enthusiasm among the student volunteers and clinic staff were outstanding."

The efficiency team, headed by Dave Records of North Kingstown, a senior computer science major and Allison Grace, a senior nursing student from North Kingstown, timed the process, from start to finish, and timed efficiency at each station to address bottlenecks.

Planned scenarios throughout the day included five incidents involving unruly patients and disorderly behavior. In two cases, the police had to restrain the patient and bring him to a holding area. These scenarios gave the police force and security personnel an opportunity to practice responding swiftly to a disruption in the process. Because of their quick response the exercise was not interrupted. There were two unplanned disturbances, a total of seven incidents that security responded to during the clinic. In addition, students played the roles of a pregnant woman and a person with a heart condition.

About 60 people showed "symptoms" that required an additional assessment and immediate treatment by URI Emergency Medical Services personnel. One individual showed symptoms consistent with cutaneous anthrax and one exhibited symptoms consistent with inhalation anthrax. URI EMS simulated transportation to South County Hospital. An afternoon simulation involved a patient with a seizure, and EMS treated that individual as well.

Prior to the event, Mather had said students, faculty and staff who participated would become a resource to the University and other communities in the event of an attack. For instance, he said, the more than 100 URI nursing students and 30 pharmacy students who volunteered to help run the clinic will now be able to bring important skills to the hospitals, clinics and agencies where they will eventually work and to the communities in which they will settle.

The students and others who volunteered as patients gained a common-sense understanding of how such a clinic would operate in an emergency and would be better prepared to make informed decisions.

The University was selected by the Department of Health to establish the clinic as part of a statewide push to prepare for a bioterrorism attack.

Every municipality in the state is being requested to develop such a drug dispensing response plan in the name of Homeland Security.

URI’s role is twofold—to test a site and then using that knowledge, teach volunteers in other towns and at other colleges to run their own operations. Observers from Brown University, Rhode Island College, Salve Regina University and Rhode Island School of Design were on hand for the exercise.

In addition to the health department, URI’s Campus Police and Security Department, Health Services, Emergency Medical Services, Department of Athletics and Recreational Services, Safety and Risk Management, the Colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy and Environment and Life Sciences, the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps at URI, the URI Bookstore and the URI Department of Communications/News Bureau have been involved in planning and running the clinic. URI Theatre students acted out certain "medical conditions" so that clinic staff members could learn how to respond to changes in patient health profiles.