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TODAY news for Thursday, March 31, 2008

School of Public Health news

School of Public Health prepares faith leaders for pandemic flu

Aimee Murray of Loma Linda University�s Center for Public Health Preparedness prepares to take the workshop participants through a questionnaire intended to reinforce the lessons of the day.
Aimee Murray of Loma Linda University’s Center for Public Health Preparedness prepares to take the workshop participants through a questionnaire intended to reinforce the lessons of the day.
Churches and other faith organizations can play a significant role in ensuring that their congregations and communities are prepared for a disaster—such as an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

That’s why LLU’s Center for Public Health Preparedness offered a pandemic influenza preparedness workshop for the Yucaipa Valley Ministerial Association and other interested individuals in the Yucaipa region.

Approximately 50 people came for the event, held March 12 at Yucaipa Seventh-day Adventist Church. During the workshop, educators from the Center for Public Health Preparedness trained the attendees on a full spectrum of pan flu facts and prepared them to respond to a pandemic.

“This is new information to a lot of faith-based organizations,” explains Walleska Bliss, MPH, project coordinator at LLU’s Center for Public Health Preparedness.

The summit began with basic facts on pandemic influenza. Participants learned about the worldwide status of avian influenza—the virus that experts fear could mutate into a form easily transmitted from human to human, causing a pandemic. The workshop also laid out non-pharmaceutical interventions that individuals can do to protect themselves during a flu pandemic. These measures include proper hand-washing and social distancing. 

Participants also learned about having strong connections within a church so that everyone can work together effectively in times of stress and crisis. Furthermore, the workshop offered a clinical perspective on mental health during emergency and disaster situations.

After learning this new information, the participants were divided into groups and asked to discuss and respond to various pandemic influenza scenarios. This allowed them to network with each other and practice planning ahead.

“We’ve been receiving positive feedback since the workshop, as well as requests for additional training,” Ms. Bliss reports.

The day’s participants included church ministers and administrators, church emergency preparedness coordinators, Yucaipa mayor Dick Riddell, and representatives from local law enforcement.

Kirsten Thorstad, pastoral coordinator at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Catholic Church in Yucaipa, was one of the
participants.

“We’ve begun an emergency preparedness team at our church, and we knew this event would offer useful information as we set our goals and pull the team together,” she says.

The workshop impressed upon her the importance of having a strong system and well-trained team in place to educate parishioners. She also learned about the need to be stocked with supplies that the community might need during an emergency.

The knowledge imparted at the workshop is of great importance to St. Frances as it moves ahead with construction on Yucaipa’s largest church.

The Rev. Larry Steele, deacon at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Yucaipa, was inspired by the workshop to make a list of tasks his congregation needs to accomplish in order to be prepared for a pandemic influenza outbreak.

Both Ms. Thorstad and Mr. Steele learned about the event through the Yucaipa Valley Ministerial Association, which co-sponsored the event. The Rev. Richard Wagner, vicar at St. Alban’s, and Hein Strydom, senior pastor at Yucaipa Adventist Church, had attended a similar workshop that the LLU Center for Public Health Preparedness hosted last fall at CrossWalk Church in Redlands. They reported on it enthusiastically to the ministerial association.

“We found it interesting and important, and decided to bring the LLU team here to share the presentations with us,” says Elijah Grekov, president of the Yucaipa Valley Ministerial Association.

The Loma Linda University Center for Public Health Preparedness is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and operates under the School of Public Health. The center partners with health departments, community organizations, and faith-based organizations to ensure preparedness for all public health hazards. Altogether, there are 27 CDC-designated Centers for Public Health Preparedness in the United States. The center at Loma Linda University is the only one in the country working with faith-based organizations.

By Heather Reifsnyder

TODAY news for Thursday, March 31, 2008