Friday, March 21, 2008

Kentucky program helps vulnerable populations prepare

As a reader of this blog, you're already a few steps ahead of the game when it comes to preparing for pandemic flu. You have access to a computer. You can read English. And you have at least the basic skills to find information online about preparedness.

Many aren't as lucky. Those who are more vulnerable to pandemic flu –- who don’t have the resources or abilities to prepare –- are often harder to reach, especially in the event of a disaster, and may suffer as a result.

In Kentucky, officials have come up with a great idea to address the needs of vulnerable populations, such as disabled, elderly or low-income residents. The state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services has launched the Kentucky Outreach and Information Network, which targets people who are hard to reach and educates them about preparedness.

Made up of about 400 members -- many of whom are volunteers -- the Kentucky network organizes annual workshops to educate community leaders about disaster preparedness. Leaders learn how to reach out and help those who are most in need but are the least likely to have access to information on how to prepare.

Network participants include religious leaders, social workers, the media, translators, health care workers and service providers, according to a report on the program in CIDRAP News, a news service from the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. The key to the Kentucky program is educating community leaders who can then act as trusted resources to share information with those they serve.

"When disasters occur, one of our top priorities is getting accurate and timely information to the public," said William D. Hacker, MD, Kentucky's commissioner for public health and acting undersecretary for health, in a 2006 news release. "Unfortunately, traditional methods of communicating health and emergency information often fall short in reaching all members of a community."

With their program, Kentucky officials have created a great model for other states and communities to follow. And we're not the only ones saying so: In 2007, peer reviewers from the University of Minnesota center named the Kentucky program a "promising practice" for preparing for pandemic flu. Which means that this program is a lesson we can all learn from.

No comments: