Terrorist Threat Prompts Attention

By and

To University Hospital’s Deborah Kim, NBC means “nuclear, biological and chemical” agents; but to her colleagues, it often stands for “nobody cares.”

That was before Sept. 11 and the ensuing anthrax incidents. These days, NBC is more likely to mean “now, everybody is concerned.”

Getting the attention of fellow staffers and physicians had often been an uphill battle for Kim during her 11-year career as the program manager of emergency management at the hospital.

“The perception was that it’d never happen to us,” Kim said. “[Since the terrorist attacks], I’ve had greater interest and support from the staff and administration.”

The increased concern is a mixed blessing for Kim, who has made four presentations in the past month. The preparation for a possible attack and the Winter Games has been a drain on her time.

The hospital had existing plans to handle disasters. The likelihood of earthquakes and proximity to the Tooele army depot, where nerve and mustard gas are stockpiled, have promoted preparedness for large influxes of casualties. Because of the heightened alert to terrorist attacks, Kim has had to revise many of these plans.

According to Kim, the hospital has increased its supply of doxycycline and gatifloxacin, both of which can be used to treat anthrax. (Gatifloxacin is a fluoroquinolone, like ciprofloxacin, and is expected to be approved soon by the FDA to treat anthrax).

The hospital has also increased the number of signs, charts and manuals that instruct the staff during an emergency. To improve communication during a disaster, hospital officials created a secured Web site that allows central planners to check on the availability of beds at the hospital. A recent drill emphasized proficiency in using emergency equipment, such as personnel protection suits and gas masks, under cold weather.

All of this preparation may be a distraction to what the hospital usually does?treating diseases not resulting from big disasters.

“The biggest challenge is balancing preparation with what we do everyday,” said a concerned Kim. “The medical staff is already under a lot of pressure.”

Kim’s strategy to achieving that balance has been a combination of legwork and forming partnerships. Kim, an advanced practice registered nurse, would train one or two physicians from each department, and they would become the experts within their groups.

“I go talk to people,” Kim said. “And make myself available.”

Wednesday, Kim and two emergency medicine professors lectured on bioterrorism. Her presentation of recent efforts for preparing the hospital followed those of the professors. Although several physicians stood up and left before her presentation, she was impressed by the number who stayed.

Everyone has to ask themselves, “What do I need to do to keep myself safe?” Kim said. “And how do I keep my family safe?”

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