Is Your Hospital Prepared to Treat Ebola? Weigh In!

While Ebola has yet to spread within the United States, one nurse in Spain has contracted the deadly disease. And, she only entered the patient's room twice. Placating fears about the virus, the CDC says U.S. hospitals are prepared for the problem and that any hospital can adequately treat and contain the virus. Nurses, however disagree. Today, I discussed my thoughts about the situation with Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel. I would love to get your opinions as well.

According to the CDC, healthcare providers simply need to follow standard contact and droplet precautions in dealing with the Ebola virus. Should we encounter the disease in the clinic or hospital setting, we are to isolate the patient in a private room with an adjoining restroom, keep the door closed, and maintain a log of all visitors who enter or exit the infected patient's room. Healthcare providers coming in contact with the patient must don gloves, gown, face mask, and protective eyewear. Shoe and leg coverings are optional. 

What about all that medical waste? As nurse practitioners we are well aware of the heaps of medical waste, the piles of linens, and the putrid emesis bags that dealing with a critically ill patient can create. According to the CDC, these should be processed according to a hospital's waste management protocol and ultimately autoclaved or incinerated to eliminate the infection. An Ebola patient's room must be cleaned thoroughly with a hospital grade disinfectant and any fabric or upholstery that comes into contact with the patient discarded. Simple enough, right?

As nurses and nurse practitioners, we are well aware that patient care, and especially a scenario like this, isn't so simple. There are a lot of logistical steps that take place in patient care. Consider your basic lab draw, for example. The phlebotomist draws blood, must bag the specimen and get it to a lab. If specialized testing is necessary, a courier must pick up the sample and deliver it in person or by mail to the lab. Then, the sample is tested by a lab technician and results released. Each of these steps must go flawlessly to get a. accurate results and b. to keep all involved in the interaction safe from pathogens. 

While the logistics of providing patient care run relatively smoothly for the most part, the stakes are high with Ebola. Inject fear of the unknown into the equation and a lack of standardized training among healthcare providers and you could have a logistical breakdown on your hands. In fact, 60% of nurses feel that their hospitals couldn't handle Ebola or aren't ready to treat the disease. Another 30% say their hospitals don't have enough protective equipment for an outbreak. 

On one hand, I understand the lack of training and communication most of our hospitals seem to have in regards to Ebola. Why pour time and resources into a disease that currently affects only a single patient? After all, flu season is upon us and will kill many more people than Ebola this year in the United States. But, I think we need to use this as a wake up call and a chance to get prepared for an infectious emergency. We saw MERS come to the United States earlier this year, for example. Any preparation we do in regards to Ebola won't be a lost cause. It could translate to controlling other rare or dangerous diseases in the future. Getting a rigorous standards in place and communicating them to hospital staff is well worth the effort and may come in handy in the future as well. 

Would your hospital be prepared if a patient with Ebola walked through the front door? Do you feel Ebola preparedness in the healthcare setting is alarmist or essential?

 

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