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Local Hospital Overconfident about Ebola

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Published on: October 15, 2014

As Americans have now learned, a health care worker in Dallas, Texas, who cared for Patient Zero Duncan, has now been confirmed of contracting Ebola. On the heels of Dr. Tom Frieden’s announcement, the local medical center in the community near where I reside has announced it “is prepared for the arrival of a suspect or confirmed case of Ebola following recommendations set forth by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention.”

According to the Covington News, the local hospital, Newton Medical Center, has implemented many of the same recommendations and “necessary assessments” similar to those at the Dallas hospital where a health care worker has contracted Ebola by caring for Patient Zero Duncan. Newton Medical Center has put in place measures to “detect a suspicious patient with Ebola and properly isolate the patient, while providing quality care.” The hospital has implemented a “travel assessment” and has ensured that appropriate isolation attire is in place that will protect the staff while caring for an Ebola patient but also will protect other patients and members of our community.

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Staff have been trained according to infection control nurse, Jenay Beshears, RN, BSN, CIC, and the hospital has worked with the Department of Public Health and the CDC in coordination of screening and testing. Beshears indicated that the “key” to distinguishing Ebola from “colds and flu,” since they share common symptoms, is the “travel assessment.”

This announcement is designed to make everyone in our little community feel secure that the local hospital is “prepared” and “capable” of isolating and caring for an Ebola patient. Unfortunately, many will feel confident and comfortable, despite the facts indicating a larger hospital with more resources failed in the attempt to contain this dreaded disease while following CDC and Public Health recommendations. Newton Medical Center is not Emory Hospital. Emory contains the appropriate level isolation room necessary for treatment of an Ebola patient. No mention of that level of isolation at Newton Medical Center.

And, at last count, there are only 4 facilities in the United States, containing a total of 19 beds, that are capable of truly isolating an Ebola stricken individual. One can rest assured that Newton Medical Center was not on that list – neither was the Dallas hospital that treated Patient Zero Duncan.

Suji Mathew, MD, infectious disease specialist on staff at Newton Medical Center, told the Covington News, “While Ebola does carry with it a high morbidity and mortality, we want to avoid mass hysteria or panic. An individual is not contagious unless symptomatic. Newton Medical Center is well equipped to treat and contain the infection. However, a patient also plays a critical role in initiating the necessary isolation procedures and containing the disease by promptly notifying the EMS or first triage staff, regarding potential travel history or exposure to Ebola.”

Now, where does all of this sound familiar? Oh right—there was a similar statement issued by the Dallas hospital spokesperson, CDC’s own Dr. Tom Freiden, when speaking about Patient Zero at the Dallas Hospital and Ebola in general, and statements found on the CDC’s own website that are being changed as much as one changes one’s underwear.

These over-confident statements directed at the public to “avoid mass hysteria and panic” do not service the community at all. It is providing a false sense of security to our community. Anyone who reads the national news or watches national news on TV already has seen what has occurred in Dallas, Texas, with Patient Zero Duncan. They have heard about the facilities that contain the appropriate isolation facilities necessary to care for Ebola-stricken patients. Individuals paying attention have seen or heard the conflicting information coming from the CDC regarding transmission. If all of that was not enough to convince someone of over-confidence, a health care worker caring for Patient Zero Duncan has contracted Ebola while following CDC isolation protocol.

Of course, the CDC contends there was some “breach” in that protocol. On the outset that a possible breach occurred in Dallas, it seems that those “in the know” at Newton Medical Center are too confident that a breach in their infection control protocol and procedure could not occur. Another issue these experts downplay or do not address is the fact that by the time the individual presents to the medical facility or EMS with symptoms, they have possibly already come in contact with countless individuals in the community. This takes into account the fact the symptomatic individual has a travel history that would preclude Ebola exposure or exposure to another individual with a travel history to areas afflicted with Ebola or possibly infected with Ebola. And, can anyone really be sure that transmission is impossible when an individual is asymptomatic?

None of this even begins to take into account the scientific study that indicated Ebola could be airborne, and if not already, could mutate into multiple forms of transmission.

Instead of parroting the government spittle, why are these individuals not speaking frankly about Ebola and the facilities’ capability? One can surmise it is because the facility receives some sort of federal and/or state funding. They verily cannot afford to “poke the bear.” But, the community would be better serviced with facts based in reality than with over-confident statements. Isn’t that what all communities deserve from their primary acute care facility and the Department of Public Health?

Our government failed to protect the citizenry from the outbreak of this dangerous, deadly, contagious diseases by suspending air travel to and from suspected areas or securing our southern border. In the wake of that disaster, the medical community now has to quell “hysteria and panic” by declaring to the public the local facilities are “prepared” for Ebola and can contain it. All of this would be fine if the cat were not already out of the bag in a case of Ebola being transmitted to a health care worker using isolation precautions. One might take their statements sincerely if one had not witnessed the rapidly changing and conflicting information on Ebola contained on the CDC’s own website.

As this health care crisis leading to disaster looms, one can bet more local community medical centers and acute care facilities will be issuing similar statements to their concerned residents. At a time when communities deserve truth instead of over-confidence, our government has insured over-confidence is to be the face of the health care community.

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