NEWS

Tennessee Biological Attack Response Incorporates Local Fortune 500s

By Carlton Purvis

Last Tuesday, volunteers delivered empty pill bottles to homes in Shelby County to test the viability of door-to-door distribution of medication after a biological attack. Sixty volunteers delivered empty pill bottles to 1,200 homes on the outskirts of Memphis while sheriff’s deputies patrolled the neighborhood.

Shelby County is using the same type of plan the United States Postal Service is putting into place around the country to respond to an anthrax or other biological attack, but with a twist that gives Fortune 500 companies in the area a role too.

Officials have set up memorandums of understanding (MOU) with around 20 businesses (all with 500 employees or more) to provide them directly with medical countermeasures for their employees and their families. 

All of the companies are Fortune 500 companies in the Memphis area, Shelby County Health Department Risk Communications Supervisor Kasia Smith-Alexander said in a phone interview on Monday. The agreement says “this is what the health department would provide and this is what we would expect in return,” she said.

What the health department would provide is a supply of lifesaving drugs in exchange for helping decrease the strain on medicine delivery teams and medicine distribution sites after a biological attack.

“This increases the amount of people we can ensure get the medication. Multiply that by two or three times per employee and that’s fifty to sixty thousand people who won’t have to visit our sites because they are being take of care by their employers,” she said.

The practice is encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and recommended by other metropolitan public health agencies. A plan in Atlanta, for example, estimates providing medication to large companies could cut in half the number of people coming to dispensing sites. A 10,000-person corporate headquarters could easily reach 50,000 people.

Working at a Fortune 500 company, however, wouldn't make it more likely a person would receive medical countermeasures, she said. Medicine wouldn’t be delivered to the companies any earlier than they would be to the general public.

The overall goal is "making sure everyone gets medication," she said. 

Smith-Alexander declined naming companies who have MOUs with the health department over concerns that people may travel to those sites to find medication instead of waiting for the door-to-door delivery or stopping by a distribution site.

Tuesday’s door-to-door exercise was successful. Sixty volunteers delivered simulated medication to 1,257 homes in 73 minutes.

The postal model requires a law enforcement escort travel with each postal worker, but instead of going door-to-door with the volunteers, in Shelby County, a set number of deputies canvass neighborhoods where deliveries are being made. 


image from BlankBlankBlank/flickr
 

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