Towns in Strafford County partnered with state officials and local healthcare agencies to exercise a plan to set up and provide oxygen care during public health emergency, such as a pandemic.

The emergency exercise was held May 14 inside Rochester Middle School after school was out for the day. This exercise focused on the ability to set up and administer oxygen to non-critical patients in an Alternate Care Site (ACS). An ACS is a temporary facility that can be set up quickly to provide limited patient services, such as oxygen, during an emergency or disaster, according to Dave Hutchinson, Strafford County’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

During Wednesday’s exercise, local first responders, hospital and healthcare staff and employees from other local agencies worked together to set up equipment and walk through a scenario in which an ACS would be required. The event was coordinated by the Strafford County Public Health Network and involved Rochester Fire and Police, Rochester School Department, Dover Fire, Somersworth Fire, Wentworth Douglas Hospital, American Ambulance, LinCare, Cornerstone VNA, NH Center for Excellence Community Health Institute, Community Action Partnership of Strafford County, Health and Safety Council of Strafford County, and graduate candidates from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy Emergency Management Graduate Program.
The people who would be cared for in an ACS would be too ill to stay at home, but require less care than in a hospital setting. In Strafford County, Rochester Middle School and the Dover Middle School have been designated as ACS sites. The purpose of an ACS is to help take the pressure off a hospital that may be over capacity in an emergency.

“Planning for these services in the community setting is an important strategy to address the potential for patient surge on healthcare services during a pandemic,” Hutchinson said, adding that while an ACS would be a last resort, planning for such an event is necessary.

At the conclusion of the exercise, the general public can be assured that in the event an ACS needs to be established. The Strafford County Public Health Region network will be ready to assist as needed.
The exercise was sponsored by New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Safety through funding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Homeland Security.

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