Thursday, Feb 07 2013 05:35 PM

Public Health announces flu clinics in Lamont

BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer

The old saw about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure may be a cliche -- but that doesn't mean it's not true.

Kern County health officials and newly elected Supervisor Leticia Perez subscribed whole-heartedly to that bit of old wisdom when they unveiled a plan Thursday to offer free transportation to a flu vaccine clinic for Lamont-area residents slated for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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When: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday

Where: Kern County Department of Public Health in Lamont, 12014 Main St.

Transportation pick-up and drop-off locations:

* Southbound: Apple Market; 99 cent store; Wharton Avenue; county complex; Weedpatch Market

* Northbound: Weedpatch Market; county complex; Wharton Avenue; El Pueblo; Apple Market

Source: Kern County Department of Public Health

Characterizing the plan as prudent action to prevent a crisis, not a reaction to an existing crisis, Matt Constantine, director of the Kern County Public Health Services, said Kern is not seeing alarmingly high numbers of patients reporting flu-like symptoms. But relaxing our vigilance is not an option, he said, because "the risks are strong."

Constantine was joined by Perez at the press conference held at the county health services offices on Mount Vernon Avenue in east Bakersfield. Perez said we need to "think creatively about how we bring these resources to the community."

Because many residents of Lamont and Arvin have limited transportation options, the Kern County Roads Department has agreed to provide a Kern Regional Transit vehicle to pick up patients at various stops along Lamont's Main Street and take them to the Lamont Public Health office near Duncan Avenue and Weedpatch Highway.

Once each patient has been vaccinated, the bus will carry them back to their stop.

The ride is free, Perez said. And the cost for a vaccination has been reduced to $9.

"No one will be turned away," she added.

Kern County Public Health Officer Dr. Claudia Jonah noted that while Kern's influenza numbers have been relatively low compared to other areas, the flu-related death of a 9-year-old Bakersfield girl last month was a tragedy no one wants to see repeated.

"There's still time to get that protection," she said.

In the meantime, the health department is receiving information daily from four area hospitals that allows staff to assess in real time the number of patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms at those hospital emergency rooms, said Kirt Emery, health assessment and epidemiology program manager for the department.

But the hospitals -- Kern Medical Center, Bakersfield Heart Hospital and facilities in Delano and the Kern River Valley -- represent about one-third of total ER visits.

"Within the next three or four weeks," Emery said, "we hope all 10 hospitals will be in the system."

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