WSU Pharmacy team has role in emergencies

Story originally published in 2009; updated in 2011. (See video story, created in 2011.)

It was in the aftershock of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that Colleen Terriff became more widely known for her expertise.

“The news was about anthrax and because I had some experience with it, I was contacted by the news media,” said Terriff, a College of Pharmacy faculty member and a clinical pharmacist at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane since 1996.
Today, Terriff and colleague Brenda Bray teach a class about the role of pharmacists in emergency response, and they have led the College to join the Spokane Regional Health District’s emergency response team.

“Pharmacists can be really instrumental in setting up a medication dispensing system,” Bray said. “They have knowledge of the legal and regulatory aspects of such a system, as well as the therapeutic value of the medications.”

Two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, Terriff was called upon to help hospital emergency department physicians when a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Spokane was the target of an anthrax hoax. From there, she served on a citywide committee preparing Spokane for potential terrorism.

Terriff co-authored an article about that, “Citywide pharmaceutical preparation for bioterrorism,” in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists, and news reporters found it when they went looking after Sept. 11. That propelled Terriff into a more public role.

Always surrounded by pharmacy students on her jobs, Terriff began including some of them in the disaster exercises staged by the regional health district.

In September 2008, students participated in a staged anthrax scare at a U.S. Post Office in Spokane. The students who played the roles of postal employees were decontaminated with solution (warm water), bundled into hazardous materials protection jumpsuits, and bused to an emergency clinic where other students and professionals screened them and dispensed oral medication to them in the form of pieces of candy.

The so-called “SpokAnthrax” was the third disaster exercise College faculty and students had participated in. New this time for the pharmacy team was an electronic alert system the College created to improve their response. When the call for help came from the health district, within three minutes the College’s team had emails, text messages, and, in some cases, phone calls, depending on how they wanted to be alerted.

At first these disaster exercises were a way to get pharmacy students volunteering alongside nurses, physicians, firefighters, Homeland Security personnel and news media, but in August 2007, the College signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the health district, agreeing to provide needed help in public health emergencies in any of the seven eastern Washington counties.

In the winter of 2008-09 a severe snowstorm closed roads in Spokane County and the pharmacy team was called into action for a weekend to help any people who were stranded without medications. Fortunately, there were no problems.

Then in the fall 2009, the H1N1 flu virus alarmed public health officials and the pharmacy team participated in a mass public immunization in Spokane. Terriff and her team received national recognition from the American Pharmacists Association for that effort.

In the fall 2010, the team participated in an experimental “drive-through” flu clinic by the Spokane Public Health District in which people did not have to get out of their cars to get a flu shot.