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Old Dominion University and the March of Dimes are teaming up to help Virginia localities avoid the mix-ups and lapses that marred relief efforts for pregnant women and infants in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

The Virginia Chapter of the March of Dimes is providing funds for a one-day conference that ODU will host May 3, 2008, on maternity-related disaster planning.

Dr. William Gill, chief of the neonatology section and medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit of Tulane Hospital for Children in New Orleans, will be the keynote speaker. Gill was widely praised for his service during the Katrina crisis.

Also taking part in the conference will be Dr. Lisa Kaplowitz, deputy commissioner of emergency preparedness and response for the Virginia Department of Health.

Christopher Osgood, associate professor of biological sciences, is leading the conference planning with assistance from Kaethe Ferguson, the university's director of research development. Both are longtime March of Dimes volunteer advisers.

"Most people think that in a hurricane evacuation, you simply get in your car and go to a safe place," said Osgood. "But for whatever reasons that didn't happen in New Orleans with Katrina." He said the disaster exposed gaps in emergency response that led the March of Dimes to make maternity-related relief planning a national priority.

Ferguson pointed to reports of parents not being notified when babies in hospitals were evacuated ahead of floodwaters. "It was horrendous. Think about parents having no idea where their babies were," she said. "Also, many of the relief centers were not adequately equipped, such as with formula or diapers."

The national March of Dimes organization has developed six key elements for maternity-related disaster relief planning that will serve as an outline for the conference program.

*Designate shelters for pregnant women and families with infants. These would be specially equipped with items such as cribs and bottle washers, and be located as close as possible to a hospital. The March of Dimes recommends that these shelters have medical services on premises.
*Have ready for distribution basic supplies and equipment including formula, diapers, breast pumps, strollers and clothing for infants, expectant mothers and nursing mothers.
*Keep disaster related lapses in prenatal and postnatal care to a minimum by setting up portable clinics and providing special transportation to safe locations where full medical care is available.
*Designate well-equipped and well-staffed temporary environments where women can deliver babies. This element includes a recommendation that all pregnant women have access to their digital prenatal health records.
*Develop a plan to keep families and infants together, or to reconnect families with infants as soon as possible after evacuation. A Web site or a telephone hotline might provide the information needed to accomplish this, according to the March of Dimes.
*Make available educational materials and other public information about maternal care and emergency maternity services before, during and after a disaster. Have backup systems in place in case traditional communication methods are not available.

Osgood said he hopes to attract about 50 people to the conference on the ODU campus, drawing emergency responders from public and private organizations. Most of the conferees are expected to come from southeastern Virginia.

The $2,270 conference grant from the Virginia chapter of the March of Dimes could spur research and planning that leads to a larger grant to improve emergency preparedness, said Ferguson.

Assisting Ferguson and Osgood on the conference steering committee are Laurel Garzon, ODU associate professor of nursing; Brett Carey, ODU master's student in physical therapy who leads the campus's March of Dimes Collegiate Council; Cheryl Deschaine from emergency planning at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters; and Ed Karotkin, professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Inquiries about the conference can be addressed to cosgood@odu.edu or kferguso@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: January 30, 2008

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