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Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Nearly $100,000 set for H1N1 defense in Mercer County

By Shelley Grieshop
The local health department has received nearly $100,000 in state grant funding to prepare the county for a possible outbreak of the H1N1 virus.
The Mercer County-Celina City Board of Health on Wednesday approved the Public Health Emergency Response funding totaling $92,452. The local agency has 30 days upon receipt of the funds to outline a budget and submit it to the state.
The grant's purpose is two-fold: it is designed to help implement mass vaccinations with specific roles and plans outlined, and to provide funding for necessary lab and data information work, said health department Administrator Dale Palmer.
The H1N1 virus was first documented this spring and has to date claimed the lives of 556 people in the U.S. alone. The World Health Organization recently announced they expect a "second wave" of the illness to strike in the coming months with a much more devastating effect than the first, based on studies of similar outbreaks in the past.
In the event there is a local H1N1 epidemic, the department likely will need extra nurses, overtime pay for staff members and mobile equipment to perform vaccinations on-site at various locations such as the fairgrounds or schools, Palmer told board members.
Palmer, 911 Coordinator Monte Diegel and county Emergency Management Agency Director Wanda Dicke met recently to discuss the purchase of a "reverse 911 system" to quickly contact large numbers of people - everyone from community leaders to residents - in one sweep. A reverse 911 system would incorporate a database of phone numbers and mapping technology to deliver outbound notifications to residents in immediate danger.
Several area school districts already use similar technology to contact parents about school delays/cancellations and other important news. The Celina school district pays $5,500 annually for the service, noted Palmer, who met Wednesday afternoon with area superintendents to discuss related issues.
"I think it would be great if we all (local agencies and schools) could pull our resources for a countywide system like this," he suggested.
The equipment could be used for numerous public health emergencies, Palmer added.
"Tornado alerts, blizzards ... anything the community needs to know about quickly," he told the board.
Palmer, 911 Coordinator Monte Diegel and county Emergency Management Agency Director Wanda Dicke continue to check into the expense of such equipment and what future costs would be to sustain it. They intend to look at options in use by other counties before making a decision on the matter, Palmer said.
The most difficult part of the venture may be rounding up phone numbers, Palmer said. Many people no longer have "land lines" and exclusively use cell phones. Those numbers are not obtainable from phone companies, he added.
"We might place a sign-up section on our Web site where people could submit their (phone) numbers," he said, adding other options likely would be implemented for those without Internet service.
Additional online story on this date
Two area men were sentenced to community control sanctions in Mercer County Common Pleas Court for their roles in a daytime robbery at a Rockford-area home. [More]
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