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Treatment centers on guard but not panicked over flu concerns

April 30, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Texas officials watch for any effects on center staffing

While it remains business as usual for addiction treatment centers around the country as warnings about more widespread effects of swine flu intensify, concerns in some states have led center staff to dust off copies of their procedure manuals for addressing infectious diseases.

In Texas, where the first reported death from swine flu outside of Mexico was confirmed on April 29, state health officials have issued basic guidelines for all congregate living facilities, including residential treatment centers for substance use services. Cynthia Humphrey, executive director of The Association of Substance Abuse Programs, a trade group representing Texas addiction treatment centers, says the Health Department has informed centers that they are allowed to restrict admissions to their facilities if they find that flu-related illness begins to drive down staffing numbers.

Humphrey says most of the state’s guidance to facilities involves their reminding staff members to pay attention to personal hygiene and encouraging workers with flu-like symptoms to stay home.

“There is a lot of conversation going on about the flu, and there is a heightened awareness, but there is not a sense of panic,” Humphrey says. Licensed addiction treatment centers in the state are required to have policies in place for dealing with infectious diseases, and addiction treatment facilities are not generally at the same level of heightened alert that would apply to direct-care hospitals in these kinds of emerging situations, she says.

Moreover, recent hurricane events in Texas have human-service agencies generally attuned to the major aspects of emergency preparedness, Humphrey says.

Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, president and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP), says it is possible that any extraordinary measures to be taken by other health care organizations will capture addiction treatment centers’ attention. “I do know of a nursing home [in Pennsylvania] that has initiated a quarantine where no visitors are allowed to enter and the residents are confined to the facility,” Hunsicker says. “So things are heating up.”

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