A drill on Wednesday simulated an outbreak of disease and a surge in patients at Great Plains Health.

Participating agencies, in addition to the hospital, were West Central District Health Department, North Platte Fire Department, Region 51 Emergency Management, the state’s emergency medical services and local longterm care facilities, said Heidi Wheeler, a coordinator for the Nebraska Plains Healthcare Coalition that organized the drill.

The drill tested the hospital’s surge plans and infectious disease plans.

The simulation had six people at longterm care facilities “get hit with this virus,” Wheeler said. In total, 15 patients were taken to the hospital. Others at local schools and childcare facilities were reported to have gone home sick with the virus.

“We didn’t really name it,” Wheeler said, saying it was just a general “disease outbreak.”

For example, an outbreak or an epidemic could be caused by a strain of influenza, Wheeler said.

“There’s just so many viruses out there that we’re watching, but those viruses change,” Wheeler said.

She used avian flu as an example.

“If that shifts and gets into the human population, that’s what’s going to cause a lot of illness,” she said. “I just don’t think we really know what can happen once those start shifting and replicating.”

As health professionals practiced the simulation of a surge in patients, staff at the West Central District Health Department began investigating to learn more about the disease, Wheeler said. Health professionals that treated the “patients” were given anti-viral, personal protective equipment — such as gowns and gloves — to prevent themselves from getting sick in the outbreak.

The drill was completed in about two hours, with another hour for debriefing, Wheeler said. All in all, participating agencies did well, she said.

Priority Medical Transport was originally scheduled to help transport the surge in patients, but had too many real-world patients to do so, Wheeler said.

This was another aspect of the drill agencies learned about: When an outbreak occurs, other patients with other needs don’t go away.

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