Flu strategy relies on volunteer support

When the second wave of the H1N1 flu swept into Douglas County, public health workers stuck to the plan. "It was absolutely amazing how well Douglas County was prepared," said Rory Strange with the United Way's 211 service in Duluth. "They had ev...

When the second wave of the H1N1 flu swept into Douglas County, public health workers stuck to the plan.

"It was absolutely amazing how well Douglas County was prepared," said Rory Strange with the United Way's 211 service in Duluth. "They had everything covered."

While the information and referral service received hundreds of calls from Douglas County residents about the pandemic, there was no panic, no mad dash. Organization and publicity helped calm the situation, Strange said.

"It made our job a lot easier," he said.

From media representatives and public officials to local health care representatives, there was praise for the county's response. Douglas County Chairman Doug Finn said they "did a fantastic job." Dr. Dawn Schultze, coordinator of student health and counseling for the University of Wisconsin-Superior called it "outstanding."


"The Douglas County Health Department did a fabulous job getting supplies to the public," said Nancy Smith, health service director for the School District of Superior.

People had many options and a lot of information, Strange said. "This is the way it should go."

Today at 11 a.m. in the atrium of the Government Center, volunteers who helped at flu shot clinics throughout the county will be recognized. To date, volunteers have provided more than 150 hours of their time to protect the public.

Douglas County staff hold regular exercises, training for just such an event as this. But, the best plan in the world is only as good as those who implement it.

"What really complimented the plan was the eagerness of the staff to get out there to all regions of the county," said Douglas County Public Health Officer Deb Clasen. Although they have spent 2,000 hours of their time and held 52 public clinics to fight the spread of H1N1, they have not accrued one hour of overtime.

To do so, public health staff worked flexible shifts, coming in late for evening clinics or working on weekends. And volunteers stepped up to set up clinics, fill syringes and administer shots.

"Douglas County has very dedicated professionals as well as volunteers who made this happen," Clasen said. "Without the volunteers, we never would have been able to achieve what we did."

Pat Schanen, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the volunteer she worked with at an early clinic was top-notch.


"The individual, a nurse, provided the same skills, sensitivity and professionalism as does our public health staff," she said.

When flu shot clinics were set up at Superior School District sites, volunteers were available to lead classes to where the shots were being administered and hold the children who got upset.

Smith recalls one child telling their holder, "You're like sitting in a comfortable chair."

Wisconsin Public Radio Reporter Mike Simonson said he kept in daily contact with Clasen as the pandemic unfolded. When a clinic was set up at UWS, she sent a nurse up to his classroom to give him a shot in front of his students.

Since the first H1N1 vaccines arrived in Douglas County in late October, at least 6,900 people have received 7,275 vaccines through medical providers and public health agencies.

"I know we have more," Clasen, but many residents who traveled to Duluth to get their vaccines are not yet listed in the Wisconsin Immunization Registry.

Another 11 clinics will take place in the following weeks for hard-to-reach populations such as seniors, people with no transportation and those with disabilities. In addition, individuals may receive the H1N1 and seasonal influenza vaccination at the Public Health Service on Mondays through Fridays from 8:15 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call 211 or the health department at 395-7411.

A number of UWS students have weathered the H1N1 flu, which usually meant four days of misery on the couch and a week off school.


"Every one of them describes it as wanting to die," Simonson said.

A third wave is expected, and a vaccination could protect not just those who get the shot, but everyone they meet.

"I hope people don't ignore it," Smith said. "It's a serious thing."

Responding to the most recent wave of H1N1-- which led to hundreds of school absences and two flu-related deaths in Douglas County - took planning, preparation and a web of connections. Agencies, organizations and individuals teamed up to protect the public. When the next wave hits, they'll be ready.

"I think when an emergency comes up, the community pulls together to provide services," Finn said. "You've got to give everybody credit."

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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