Event to focus on flu planning

Posted Oct. 23, 2009, at 8:33 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Business leaders in the Bangor area will have an opportunity next week to improve their preparedness for an extensive regional outbreak of influenza.

At a free half-day workshop in Bangor, flu experts will provide an update of the current H1N1 flu pandemic, including the potential for widespread workplace absenteeism in coming months because of acute illness in workers and their family members. Guidance for developing workplace policies to ensure continued operations — including flexible employee scheduling and customer communications — also will be provided.

Among presenters at the event will be Kathy Knight of the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center, a federally funded disaster management program affiliated with Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Brewer. Knight, a registered nurse who has been active for several years in sounding the alarm about an expected global influenza outbreak, said Friday that although some larger institutions and employers in Maine have developed sound policies for responding to a pandemic, many others in the business community have taken a more cavalier approach.

“Most businesses have chosen to do very little in terms of pandemic flu planning,” she said. “There has been a large percentage of doubt that something would happen to make us all open our plan books.”

The H1N1 outbreak, while causing only mild to moderate illness in the general population, has the potential to worsen significantly, she noted. The virus’s tendency to cause more serious illness in pregnant women and children — there have been 86 reported deaths among U.S. children from swine flu, though none in Maine — indicates it has unique properties, Knight said.

“The fear is … that this will have an opportunity to mutate and become something very nasty,” she said.

In addition to Knight’s presentation, the planning event will offer information about the availability of a vaccine for H1N1 influenza, guidelines for crafting appropriate personnel policies, ensuring the availability of essential supplies and materials, and enhancing communication with employees, suppliers and customers.

The workshop will take place from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the Spectacular Event Center. To register or for more information, contact Eastern Maine Development Corp. at 942-6389 or lweaver@emdc.org.

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