On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 15, 16, 17, local health department and emergency responders tested their abilities to communicate and collaborate in combating a statewide fake epidemic of a highly contagious respiratory illness.

What if a potentially fatal and highly contagious respiratory disease were causing casualties all over the state? What could our local public health department and health facilities do to stop the spread of the disease before more of the local population became victims? This was the question Otero/Crowley County Public Health Director Rick Ritter, the public health staff and local clinics, emergency responders and law enforcement sought to find out last week. Could they get the necessary antibiotics distributed to the general public in time to offset the epidemic?

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 15, 16, 17, local health department and emergency responders tested their abilities to communicate and collaborate in combating a statewide fake epidemic of a highly contagious respiratory illness. Participating in the exercise were Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center, Arkansas Valley Family Practice, Southeast Health Group, Valley-Wide Health Systems, Rocky Ford Family Health Center, Centennial Family Health Center, Country Plains Home Health and InspirationField. The La Junta fire and police departments and the Otero County Sheriff’s office, Otero Junior College Nursing and OJC Nursing/Health Navigator students, as well as Otero County Public Works, Road and Bridge crew and Emergency manager Danny Chavez also participated.

Communications regarding the make-believe emergency situations, and transportation exercises were dealt with on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday supplies were on hand to dispense Ciproflaxin and Doxycycline (not really — M & M's  and Skittles were used) at the point of distribution located at the Otero County Courthouse. Citizens were asked to drive through a series of stations set up around the courthouse, starting at the southeastern corner of the courthouse parking lots. This necessitated driving in from the north, or the highway, direction. Then the persons participating in the exercise proceeded clockwise around the courthouse. On the south side of the courthouse, they received a simple questionnaire to reveal whether or not they would have difficulty with the medications dispensed: no problem got a blue label for the windshield; complications got a yellow label.

Proceeding to the north side parking lot and Second Street, there was one lane for blue stickers and two lanes for yellow stickers. Dr. Richard Book and Kevin Harsh, DNP, dealt with the complications. Dr. Book insisted the nurses on duty were the actual workers. The “medicine” that was dispensed actually consisted of a bag of M & M's or Skittles candies and some other goodies in a bag.

The workers felt the exercise was well worthwhile in learning how they would respond in an emergency situation, but wished many more people had driven through the emergency POD set up at the courthouse. The reason for staying inside the automobiles was to avoid human contact as much as possible.

Rick Ritter said, “Thank you to our participants that braved the hot weather, got here early, and worked hard until 3 p.m. We did it in Rocky Ford and now we know we can do it in La Junta. We will move the POD around to practice doing it in different locations.”