Free flu clinic handles steady turnout with ease

Wednesday, November 5, 2003
Flu shots and a little terror for free -- Don Splichal comforted his daughter, Alexis, as she reacted to the pain of her flu shot Monday morning while her sister, Mercedes, and pediatric nurse Pat Jones looked on.The mass flu vaccine dispensing clinic at the Berryville Community Center went smoothly on Monday, with no delays reported. CCN / Anna Mathews

BERRYVILLE ---- "Quick and efficient," was the way many residents described their experience at the mass flu dispensing clinic on Monday at the Berryville Community Center.

Individuals and entire families began arriving at 6 a.m. to take advantage of the 4,000 free flu vaccines that were made available by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

By 5 p.m., 1,600 area residents had come through the door for a share of the $60,000 worth of vaccines. At the day's end, more than 1,800 had come for the shots.

Carroll County was one of nine Arkansas counties chosen to participate in a mass dispensing exercise designed to prepare agencies for a bioterrorism attack and to simulate a mass smallpox vaccination clinic.

Clinic coordinator Sherri Plumlee, with the Carroll County Health Unit, said nearly all aspects of the exercise went well.

"The site was perfect," she said, "and we couldn't have asked for better weather," referring to temperatures in the upper 70s.

"The public was excited that it went so quickly," she continued. "The majority of people were in and out in 10 minutes or less."

The only exception occurred shortly after 4 p.m. when pediatric patients (those under the age of 18) came through the door all at once.

Even so, in referring to her records, Plumlee discovered that the greatest length of time during the brief rush was 15 minutes.

"It was very quick and efficient," confirmed Mary Ann Carlson, who stopped by the Community Center around 8:30 a.m. for her flu shot. "I parked, walked in, and it wasn't more than 10 minutes before I was back at my car."

Although the clinic fell short of its 2,500 shot goal, organizers were thrilled with the outcome.

"The coordination of volunteers went really well," Plumlee said. "I fielded phone calls and made assignments. I had 250 officially on the list, plus more showed up and I didn't turn anyone away."

Special communication systems were also put into play during the day.

A command vehicle provided by Smith Two-Way Radio was stationed at the site, and the county's 911 central dispatch system was tested for the first time.

"It was for one day only, to work out the bugs with the equipment," explained Candy Bawcom, 911 manager for the county. "We used the Saunders Heights tower with the emergency frequency for communications between mass drill personnel."

The command vehicle, on its "maiden voyage," was manned by Michael Smith and Terry Griffin, with Smith Two-Way, who said they offer use of the bus to area law enforcement and emergency personnel for search, rescue and other situations.

Smith said the totally contained vehicle, with three power sources and on-site repeaters, can connect various departments that operate on different radio systems during emergencies.

Food for volunteers during the 14-hour exercise was coordinated by Eddie Lu Anderson, with the American Red Cross.

An exhausted Anderson said the day had gone "alright." She had planned to feed 150 volunteers, not the 250-plus that came.

"I had to restock on several occasions," said Anderson. "It was really neat the way that everyone who was asked, gave, and gave beautifully."

Anderson said she was pleased with the volunteers who helped, including the students.

"It's been great," she concluded. "This exercise has shown all of us the things that we need that we really didn't think of. It's been a learning experience."

Plumlee agreed. "It went smooth," she said, "but there were a few things I'd do differently and I was a little disappointed that we didn't have more people come."

Organizers of the event will meet again on Thursday to review all aspects of the clinic and implement changes.

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