Through the community health assessment, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) examines the health of the community and provides programs and resources to keep the community healthy. Just like a person makes decisions that affect their health, so does a community. Access to clean air, healthcare, safe foods, and pure water to name a few are things we need to stay healthy. But what happens when access to what keeps us healthy is threatened in an emergency? The SJBPH Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response (OEPR) has a plan for that.
The Emergency Managers and Incident Management Team at SJBPH respond to major disasters to protect residents from disease outbreaks and other hazards that result from contaminated food and water, chemical releases, insect-borne diseases, and unmet medical needs. Some examples of emergencies that are addressed by the SJBPH team include communicable disease outbreaks, wildfires, power outages and hazardous materials incidences. The focus of the team is to prevent epidemics, prevent injury, prevent the spread of disease, promote and encourage healthy behaviors, protect against environmental hazards, respond to disasters, and assist the community in recovery.
Public health emergency preparedness is the capability of public health and health care systems, communities, and individuals, to prepare for, mitigate, respond to, and recover from health emergencies. Preparedness covers a lot of ground in SJBPH OEPR including:
- Community Resilience: Preparing for and recovering from emergencies
- Incident management: Coordinating an effective response
- Information Management: Making sure people have information to take action
- Countermeasures and Mitigation: Getting medicines and supplies where they are needed
- Surge Management: Expanding medical services to handle large events
- Biological surveillance: Investigating and identifying health threats
Focusing on community resilience, one of the ways the team prepares ourselves, partners, and the community is through the development of plans. SJBPH maintains a Public Health Emergency Preparedness Plan (PHEOP), which describes the basic strategies and mechanisms by which SJBPH will manage an emergency or disaster involving local health issues; outline concepts of operation including a description of activities for emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation; and comply with applicable laws and regulations regarding the duties and authorities of local public health agencies. This plan also outlines SJBPH’s commitment to annual planning, training, and exercise activities to ensure the adequate level of preparedness necessary to respond to emergencies or disasters within the SJBPH service jurisdiction.
SJBPH has several plans supporting the PHEOP that were used and refined during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the SJBPH team utilized the Communicable Disease Response Plan which outlines surveillance, testing, investigation, control, mitigation, and data management of elements of ongoing infectious and communicable disease. SJBPH used the Quarantine and Isolation Plan to guide containment and disease mitigation by non-pharmaceutical means. The team developed standard operating procedures to ensure utilization of the most current COVID-19 guidance and recommendations from the CDC to supplement existing plans. The Responder Safety and Health Plan provides a framework for when SJBPH is the subject matter expert in first responder protection, coordination of resources, and situational awareness regarding responder safety. SJBPH developed an agency Strategic National Stockpile Distribution Plan to manage the distribution of the very limited supplies and resources received to redistribute to SJBPH responders and partners. The Point of Dispensing standard operating procedure was expanded with just-in-time training for the Southwest Colorado Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to staff mobile and stationary COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution clinics.
When not engaged in global pandemics, the SJBPH OEPR team utilizes a Workforce Development Plan and Multi-year Integrated Preparedness Plan to look at plans that need revision, equipment that will close a gap in public health response operations, and training and exercise for SJBPH staff to better prepare the organization for future responses. The SJBPH Communications team utilizes a Crisis Risk Communications Plan to successfully communicate with the public in response to any emergency or crisis event that puts the public at risk for disease or negative health outcomes. Several of the plans are receiving updates because of lessons learned and best practices developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The SJBPH OEPR team is currently engaged in a national review of the SJBPH emergency plans through the National Association of County and City Health Organization’s Project Public Health Ready program. This will be the third submission SJBPH has made for recognition in this program, and SJBPH is one of three public health agencies in the state of Colorado that continues to receive recognition.
Emergencies can be stressful. When individuals and organizations have plans to provide direction at the beginning of a response and when we train and exercise our public health preparedness and response strategies and plans, everyone is better prepared to respond and recover from the emergency.