Originally created 10/17/01

Health officials urge allied effort



Richmond County has a plan to respond to a terrorist attack, but better coordination between medical agencies and institutions is needed, officials said Tuesday.

"It's called partnerships and relationships," said David Dlugolenski, the county's emergency management director. "That's the key. You can have the best plan in the world, but if you don't have the relationships, it's not going to work so well."

Representatives from local hospitals, EMS services and public-health agencies met Tuesday to discuss plans to respond to terrorist attacks.

The meeting was planned long before the attacks of Sept. 11, after an exercise in the spring revealed the need for better communication between parties, officials said.

"We can sum up the purpose of the meeting by saying there is a need for coordination and communication," said Frank Rumph, the district director for the Georgia Division of Public Health. "There will be more days like this, because we have to work through this thing."

The agencies plan to hold several drills to practice responses to emergencies such as terrorist attacks, Mr. Dlugolenski said.

He also offered help to hospitals seeking federal money for emergency-response efforts. He noted the recent formation of a federal agency for homeland security.

"You know what's coming out of this," Mr. Dlugolenski said. "Bucks, money, opportunities."

Some hospital representatives asked public health officials to smooth the testing process for some diseases after the recent rash of fears of bioterrorism attacks using anthrax.

Some patients who feared exposure to the disease are still waiting for test results that should have taken only a few days to prepare, doctors said.

Some doctors asked whether the hospitals could begin processing the tests themselves, instead of waiting for results from a state lab.

"If you think we have problems now, just wait another month until flu season hits," said Dr. Richard Eckert, the medical director of emergency services at University Hospital. Some symptoms of anthrax are similar to those of the flu.

Dr. Rumph and Mr. Dlugolenski said they would inquire about ways to streamline the testing process.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409 or bhaddock@augustachronicle.com.

FIND OUT MORE

People with concerns about bioterrorism and other public-health issues can contact the Georgia Division of Public Health via two toll-free hot lines: (888) 307-6365 and (888) 667-4684.