Mass Flu Clinic and Health Fair may provide insight to Tribes and community emergency preparedness
Editor's note: This article is expanded from the print version and includes additional information.
PABLO — Recently, Lake County experienced a blackout caused allegedly by a wayward frog with no business being around an electrical grid. For several hours, Polson, Pablo and parts of Ronan were in the dark, and some projections suggested that the outage could last into the night. Fortunately, power was restored before dusk.
What if it hadn’t? Worse yet, what if an outage struck western Montana and it lasted days or even weeks?
Natural disasters can occur suddenly, or a region may be ill equipped to respond to one even if they know its coming.
The Mass Flu Clinic and Health Fair on October 23 was part of an exercise by CSKT and local partners to test their capability to treat hundreds if not thousands of people should such an emergency arise.
Buses travelled throughout Lake County and the reservation to bring tribal members and their loved ones to Salish Kootenai College’s Joe McDonald Gymnasium and Event Center for flu shots. The event provided two results: prevent people from getting the flu this autumn season, and provide data for Tribal Health Department, CSKT, and local partners to understand the strengths and weaknesses in their disaster planning.
How’d they do?
“The part we found most successful is that we now know how to set up a point of dispensing (vaccines) in the event that there is a real emergency,” says Chelsea Kleinmeyer, THD’s Community Health Division Director who oversaw the event. In all, 271 patients received flu vaccinations. A survey of CSKT, THD and community health employees and staff who worked the event felt that if sudden emergencies arose they could show up and know what to do.
Klienmeyer felt each staff member worked well together and followed the instant command structure, which is an organizational structure and hierarchy of supervision used for emergency events. The structure keeps the duties and tasks of each person clear so that movement of potential patients flows smoothly.
Tammy Matt, CSKT Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, said the flow of patients was steady throughout the day. The estimated time for patients to get through the process was seven to eight minutes, of which the major of that time was used to fill paperwork before the vaccination.
A survey of participants largely felt the process and flow of vaccinations was smooth and easy. Kleinmeyer also noted that 44 children were vaccinated at the event, more than THD usually sees this time of year. Toward the end, more families came through for flu shots. Because of the sizable number of kids vaccinated this time around, Matt thinks holding a clinic later in the day would allow families to come after school hours.
After the vaccination gauntlet, a health fair awaited them.
Emergency preparation also reveals what needs work. Kleinmeyer said that not all health staff were aware the event was intended to test emergency preparedness and why that is important. Many thought it was just a flu clinic. This was also true for educating the community, as the emergency preparedness aspect wasn’t announced until later in the campaign.
The flu clinic staff on hand was more than needed, said Matt. They were set up to handle a large volume of patients than what actually came through. In the future, the amount of staff needed could be scaled back, but Matt says that the large staff numbers helped get patients through easily.
After lunch, however, many of the volunteers – many SKC students – had left to attend classes for midterm tests, and some staff was shuffled around to fill needed roles.
Matt says they have a lot more work to educate the community. “We’re hoping to get the community used to the idea of coming to a central location to get their medication or their vaccinations,” she said.
Despite busses being available through CSKT Transit to take tribal members to SKC, only two participants used the buses.
“It was pretty shocking that only two people used the bus,” said Matt. THD put up flyers, called clients, posted information on THD Facebook page and committed a large amount of funds to purchase radio advertisements to get tribal members to come to the flu clinic. Only 10 patients said they heard the radio ad. Most others read it in work e-mail or saw the ads in local newspapers, including Char-Koosta News. Matt also believes that community members didn’t want to sit on a bus all day and were used to THD staff coming to their homes to administer vaccinations.
This year’s event vaccinated tribal members and beneficiaries, and next year the emergency planning team hopes to include Lake County in their operation, and open up the vaccinations to non-tribal members. A tentative date has been set and will give Lake County time to gather enough vaccines. Kleinmeyer is hopeful that more people will participate in the event and each year will be bigger and better.
Matt agrees and said her goal this year was to vaccinate 200 and they surpassed that number. Including Lake County and setting the next flu clinic in late September instead of October at the start of flu season could increase that number.
Preparing for the worst is best for a community’s health. Its ability to face an emergency that requires mass vaccinations or other unforeseen medical need is the best way to keep everyone healthy. “It’s important to let the community know that an (emergency) event could happen.” Kleinmeyer said it’s not a question of will it happen.
It’s a matter of when.
To learn more about CSKT Tribal Health, visit and like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CSKTHealthinfo/