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Petty Office 2nd Class Michael Tucker, center, a pharmacy technician at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, shares the hospital’s pharmacy with fellow technicians Tech Sgt. Shawn Coleman, right, and Airman 1st Class Natasha Gregory.
Petty Office 2nd Class Michael Tucker, center, a pharmacy technician at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, shares the hospital’s pharmacy with fellow technicians Tech Sgt. Shawn Coleman, right, and Airman 1st Class Natasha Gregory. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — The 18th Medical Group Clinic on Kadena Air Base was shut down Thursday and almost all operations were moved to the U.S. Naval Hospital here as part of a disaster-response drill.

The scenario had the clinic on the air base being shut down after a letter containing anthrax was received Wednesday night and contaminated the entire building, according to Maj. Christopher Selby, the medical group’s readiness officer. Once the “samples” tested positive, the facility was shut down and the “alternate facility plan” kicked in.

Selby said a mock decontamination of one area was completed so a small medical contingency could stay behind Thursday.

He said the group — including a full range of flight medical services, a family practice team, a pediatrician and technicians — would work out of another building on base during an actual emergency.

To avoid inconveniencing clinic patients, Selby said, no routine appointments were booked for that day. Thursday’s estimated 25 to 30 acute appointments were referred to the hospital, he said.

Eighteenth Medical Group support personnel such as technicians and administrators also moved to the hospital.

About 250 people from the Kadena clinic worked at the hospital in three different shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Selby said. “This allows us to develop an integrated health care facility,” he said. “It’s a unified response which capitalizes on the strengths of our two facilities.”

The drill, the first of its kind between clinic and hospital, helped the staffs learn how to operate together, said Cmdr. Daniel Huhn, the hospital’s command emergency manager and emergency room department head. “I was worried the clinics would fill up and patients would come” to the emergency room “but that hasn’t happened,” Huhn said. “It’s working very well. Their staff has integrated with ours and patients are not having to wait too long.”

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