UNT Health Crisis Team has plan for Ebola

UNT Health Crisis Team has plan for Ebola

UNT Health Crisis Team has plan for Ebola
October 30
00:04 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

The world has witnessed the agile spread of Ebola from West Africa to the U.S. The pandemic traversed its way to North Texas, dodging Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warnings and presidential suggestions.

Stopping the spread of Ebola is but a day’s work for the members of the UNT Health Crisis Team. The team is dedicated to serving the UNT campus and community, steering it away from baleful diseases such as the West Nile virus, tuberculosis and measles

Assembling the team

Chartered in 2007, the team is comprised of Vice President of Student Affairs Elizabeth With;  Herschel Voorhees of the Health Center; members from University Relations, Communications and Marketing; Director of Risk Management Doug Welch; an attorney; and coordinators Vickie Coffey and Brad Scott.

“We meet at the beginning of every semester,” Scott said. “And as situations develop, we will pull a team together quickly to address whatever it might be. A lot of these things are unpredictable, so we have to be somewhat flexible.”

Led by With, the team’s commencement meetings plan for the coming months of school, deliberating on the possible outbreaks that could occur.

“If there is anything from West Nile to any other communicable disease that might be affecting this region at the time, then we will talk about that,” Scott said. “However, different years always have different threat levels.”

The Health Crisis Team has its perpetual meetings, but when the media grabs ahold of a prevailing disease, it gathers in urgent fashion to fray any chances of it touching down at UNT.

The team follows a sequence of events that has been used in each scare: meet, deliberate, call the experts, produce a message, disseminate the message, monitor and review afterward.    

“This has proven to be very effective because we can reach out immediately,” Coffey said. “We can meet within an hour, two hours or a day later, depending on when and how and what we need to discuss.”

Threat Levels

There is a sequence of actions the team follows when a possible health threat is on the horizon. Scott said it all has to do with the proximity to campus.

“As things get closer and closer to home, we increase our response based on what the immediate threat is,” he said. “Right now, it [Ebola] is at an increased readiness level. With us being very close in proximity to the first patients here in the U.S., it did raise a lot of eyebrows across the community.”

Response consists of three phases.

In Phase I, the Health and Food Safety officer will make a full report, detailing the source and time of the detection. From there, the information is presented to the team. Denton County Health Department officials may attend the meetings as necessary.

“We will pull in Facilities to tell us what they’re doing,” Coffey said. “We have invited people from the city to tell us what they’re doing. So we just accumulate all that information, and we distribute it to the campus, to the students and faculty.”

The Student Affairs office will then gather all the facts and data surrounding the initial source to then interview the person involved and those who may have interacted with them. The doctor and risk manager meet again to determine a plan of action. URCM representatives will consider the message for the students, faculty and staff.

“Our intentional efforts aim to be as informative as possible,” UNT news director Buddy Price said. “We try to be very open and also as educational as we can so people understand what the issue is and how they can take care of themselves.”

Funding for treatment, the possible effects of an outbreak and public health risk are all considered during this phase. The university president will then be brought up to speed on the situation.

“You look at the reality of the situation versus the emotional response to the situation,” Scott said. “And sometimes, those are very different things, so you’re trying to manage both of those things at the same time, which can be very challenging.”

The leading media release is circulated by URCM at the beginning of Phase II. Scott said it’s imperative for the team not to frighten anybody in the community, but also said it’s equally important to inform the public on the situation.

“You want people to be aware,” he said. “But you also do not want them to be afraid of something that is not really a concern at that point.”

Medical staff prepares and recommends treatments that are consistent with county and CDC policy.

“They are the experts,” Scott said. “They have already written the handbook. They know how to respond to these things.”

Other medical releases are also considered during Phase II as well.

“Email seems to be the best method so far,” Price said. “When they see an administrative announcement in their email, they’ll open it and read it. Sometimes people will send us an email asking if we have any more details, or if we have any news.”

Phase III is the review process. During that time, the team reflects on an after-action report (AAR) to analyze its decisions and to make the proper changes for future issues.

“We call this a health crisis team, and so it has the idea that we only talk about things in the moment something happens,” Scott said. “And so there is this panic aspect to it. That is really not the case. We go about these things well beforehand. A lot of this is really preorchestrated and preplanned for events to occur.”

Past Diseases

The recent uproar from the Ebola virus isn’t the first time there’s been a public health scare at UNT.

Coffey said she remembers when there was a tuberculosis panic on campus a few years ago. The team met hurriedly to assess the situation. The members queried Denton County, city and CDC officials for guidance.

“We also had Housing and Dining,” she said. “It just depends on who is involved with the crisis. We sent out letters to those who needed to be monitored closely, and to those who probably were not affected, but needed to be notified that the potential was there. Then we sent out a general letter to the campus.”

As a result of the tuberculosis alarm, Coffey said, UNT began subjecting international students to screenings to first clear them before entering into the student body.

Another time a professor from Georgia became ill while she taught at UNT. Back in her country there was an outbreak of measles. The team got to work and the situation remained calm.

“When you are brought up in the U.S. and get your vaccinations, you are not likely to get those diseases,” Coffey said. “But we have such a large population that we involve those people who have not had those vaccinations. They definitely need to be watched and know what to look for, just as everybody needs to know what is going on. And that is what this [team] is for.”

Featured Illustration by Jake Bowerman – Senior Staff Illustrator

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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