Colleen Terriff talks with pharmacy students in emergency response exercise last fall
SPOKANE – It was in the aftershock of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. that WSU’s 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 pharmacy faculty member at WSU and clinical pharmacist at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane for the past 12 years.
Today, she and a colleague teach a class in emergency preparedness and response to pharmacy students, and they have led the College of Pharmacy to become an official member of the Spokane Regional Health District’s emergency response team.
She recently received the “Bill Mueller Outstanding Mentor Award” from the Washington State Pharmacy Association.
The award recognizes a practicing pharmacist or pharmacy technician with at least 10 years of practice experience “who has been and continues to be an outstanding mentor in the field of pharmacy.”
Two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, Terriff had been called upon to answer questions from hospital emergency department physicians when a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Spokane was the target of an anthrax hoax. From there, the young faculty member was drafted to serve as the pharmaceutical coordinator on a citywide committee preparing Spokane for potential “ Y2k” terrorism, so-named because a potential glitch as computers rolled over from the year 1999 to the year 2000 (Y2k) could have left the U.S. vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Terriff co-authored an article about that experience, “Citywide pharmaceutical preparation for bioterrorism,” in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists, and news reporters found it through the Google computer search engine when they went looking after the Sept. 11 attack. That propelled Terriff into a more public role.
She gave many news interviews and lectured regionally and nationally after Sept. 11. Because she had completed a U.S. Department of Justice training a year earlier, she presented in-service trainings to emergency response professionals in Spokane.
Always surrounded by pharmacy students on her day jobs as a professor and a pharmacist at the hospital, Terriff began including some of the students in the disaster exercises staged by the Spokane Regional Health District. Three years ago she teamed up with WSU colleague Brenda Bray, and the two professors developed an elective course for pharmacy students to teach them about the role of pharmacists in public health emergencies.
“Pharmacists can be really instrumental in setting up a medication dispensing system and they have knowledge of the legal and regulatory aspects of such a system, as well as the therapeutic value of the medications,” Bray said.
Pharmacy student Corinne Gavrun goes through decontamination role in an anthrax emergency exercise in Spokane in September
This past September, students in the class found themselves in the middle of a staged anthrax scare at a U.S. Post Office in Spokane. The students who played the roles of postal employees were decontaminated (sprayed down) with solution (warm water), bundled into blue 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.
“I absolutely loved being a volunteer,” said pharmacy student Dalari Fales, who was one of the ones who had to strip down to a bathing suit and go through a mobile triple-shower system during the decontamination of the USPS building.
“I feel that I really took away a lot from this course. I gained some skills to be more personally prepared for emergencies, and I am also more prepared to help out as a volunteer. The realism of this drill was great, too. I thought it was fun.”
The so-called “SpokAnthrax” was the third such disaster exercise Terriff and pharmacy students had participated in, although the two previous exercises dealt with an influenza epidemic. New this time for the pharmacy team was an electronic alert system the College of Pharmacy created to improve notification to team members and response time.
When the call for help came into the college from the health district, it went to a faculty administrator with access to the computer alert system. The administrator filled in a few blanks on a computer screen and, within three minutes, the emergency response team had emails, text messages and, in some cases, phone calls, depending on how they wanted to be alerted.
Lisa Woodard, a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy at WSU, standing left, and Melody Smith, a registered nurse at Spokane Regional Health District, right, provide guidance to two pharmacy students who were preparing to help an influx of “victims” in a Spokane exercise.
The role of the faculty and students started out less critical than it has become. It was a way to get pharmacy students volunteering alongside nurses, physicians, firefighters, homeland security personnel and news media during these disaster exercises. But now, the Spokane Regional Health District acknowledges in a signed agreement (memorandum of understanding) with the college that the faculty and students provide needed expertise and manpower when other health care professionals may not be able to get away from their jobs to answer the call for help.
The college signed the agreement in August 2007, committing a response team of faculty and students to public health emergencies in any of the seven counties in eastern Washington. The health district, in turn, pledged to provide ongoing training. Either side may cancel the agreement with 30 days notice.
“It’s important for us to stay involved in planning and response for emergency efforts in the community,” Terriff said.
(Photos courtesy of the WSU College of Pharmacy)