Preparing for health outbreaks during Illinois budget impasse

Do you and your family know what to do to feel safe in a health crisis, such as an anthrax attack?

Health departments prepare for it, practicing how to best serve communities in emergencies. But some in Illinois say they’re worried about the potential for crises to happen while they’re strapped for funding and resources because of the budget impasse.

"Are you feeling well today?" It’s a question asked in Carbondale to volunteers pouring in through the door. Health experts there have their eyes peeled for anthrax symptoms and signs. It’s just a drill now, but volunteer Kim Bock says it’s a little eerie knowing it’s a possibility.

"It could actually happen, yeah, so it is kind of scary," Bock said. A health employee for SIU’s student health center, Bock says in a real emergency, she’d be helping with the intake, but today she’s merely another faux-patient, pretending to be exposed to anthrax in Jackson County.

She and dozens of others are being checked for symptoms, getting medication and dosing information, even impromptu health screenings.

Just like in the real life situation, the drill teaches them to divert people with special health needs or a disability in to a different line, making sure everyone gets the kind of medical attention they need in an emergency.

The Jackson County Health Department is down more than $400,000 because of the budget impasse. Bart Hagston, the emergency preparedness director for the department, says it’s hard just to put on a drill like this. He says it would be even more challenging on staff and volunteers if this ever happened for real.

"We have less staff, we have less resources, so it’s hard for us to maintain our capabilities to address public health concerns in emergencies," Hagston said.

He says seeing the drill they’re required to put on every five years run smoothly reassures him that, if they had to, they could keep up in an emergency.

"The way this is all set up and how they are very informative, telling you everything, yeah, I think I’m in good hands," Bock said.

Whether it’s the impasse or a disease outbreak, Bock says she feels confident the community can handle it.

Health department leaders say the best way to prepare you and your family for a health emergency is to plan ahead and make sure everyone in your house knows the plan.

To find out how you can prepare for an emergency, click here.

To find out how you can volunteer to help your community in an emergency, click here

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