Georgia hospitals and Ebola

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Another Ebola patient arrived for treatment this week at Emory University Hospital. Today, the Georgia Hospital Association writes about how other hospitals are preparing for any possible outbreaks. Local and National nurse organizations also weigh in with their concerns about treating the disease, and one urges the CDC to “fully share” the findings around the care of Thomas Eric Duncan, the patient who came from Liberia with Ebola and died in a Dallas hospital. Finally, an Atlanta nonprofit leader writes about the desperate need for medical supplies in West Africa where Ebola has killed thousands.

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Preparing for the unknown

By Doug Patten

Ebola is a highly contagious, deadly disease that has resulted in more than 4,000 deaths in West Africa in nine months.

Influenza is a highly contagious, deadly disease that claims the lives of over 35,000 people every year in this country alone.

We fear one more than the other because one is the devil we know.

Our collective fear of Ebola rests mostly on what we don’t know.

Despite all of the uncertainty surrounding this evolving situation, Georgia residents can be assured that the entire Georgia healthcare community continues to work around the clock to protect our patients, our heroic healthcare workers and our communities. In fact, we’ve had comprehensive systems in place since 9/11 to address any potential threats to public health and safety. We’ve designed detailed communication networks that have already served us well in response to mass injury catastrophes (2008 sugar refinery explosion in Savannah), natural disasters (tornadoes in Americus, Adairsville, Ringgold, etc.), and public health threats and infectious diseases (SARS, avian and swine flu, and the H1N1 pandemic).

When the 2014 Ebola outbreak began in March, we began to get information about the virus and its spread throughout three neighboring countries in West Africa. The World Health Organization and our own Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided information about the disease and updates on the epidemic. Information was shared with healthcare providers across our country, but the problem was halfway around the world until two American missionaries came home sick. Suddenly, we were all aware of the potential for this epidemic to invade our own homeland. Interest in disaster readiness grew, but fear was growing faster. With fear as fuel, misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Georgians should know that the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has taken the lead on Ebola management. Working with the CDC and the experts at Emory, DPH has continued to provide information for healthcare providers, as well as establishing 24/7 support for hospitals and doctors so no one is left without help. These efforts continue to adapt and evolve as we learn more about Ebola.

The Georgia Hospital Association and the entire Georgia hospital community are working alongside DPH and Commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald to create more streamlined access to the latest information, ensuring the dissemination of vital communication and providing resource materials and updates to healthcare providers in the state.

Georgians expect their hospitals to be well prepared to handle the routine and the unexpected. Georgians should know that hospitals have been evaluating and screening potential Ebola cases successfully for weeks. These hospitals are continuing to sharpen their skills with education and training. The disaster preparedness system, already in place, exists to respond to any threats of drug or supply needs so no patient suffers from the unexpected.

We are fortunate to have Emory University Hospital here in Georgia. Despite initial criticism, they took the risk of accepting and treating the first Ebola victims. The ability of their teams to apply the science and adhere to the procedures has given them well-deserved international accolades. Emory’s willingness to share their experience with any and all will help us all know better how to safely and effectively provide care for potential and confirmed cases of Ebola.

Georgians should know that there are known illnesses that are more threatening to us than Ebola: the flu, for example. (By the way, we should all take responsibility for getting vaccinated and follow good personal hygiene practices to avoid getting and spreading the flu.)

Georgians should also know that all hospitals across the state are actively developing their own specific response to Ebola, but they are doing it as part of an evolving statewide strategy.

The goals are straightforward:

• Suspected cases will be promptly identified and effectively and efficiently evaluated

• Confirmed cases will receive the best possible treatment in the best available environment

• The safety of the providers will be assured

In the best of all possible outcomes, no one will contract Ebola in Georgia. But if that happens, our hospitals are working daily to prepare for that one.

Dr. Doug Patten is chief medical officer for the Georgia Hospital Association.

Nurses respond

From the Georgia Nurses Association

Since August, when we first heard that Ebola patients were being flown to Emory University Hospital for care, the Georgia Nurses Association has urged its members and all Georgia nurses to review and familiarize themselves with the CDC’s infectious disease guidelines and checklists. It is vital that nurses review these guidelines to ensure their safety and the safety of others in the immediate health care environment. We will continue to communicate this urgency.

GNA is concerned by the recent news that Texas nurse Nina Pham acquired Ebola while caring for a patient, despite wearing a protective suit and mask at her place of employment. We are hopeful for this nurse’s speedy, full recovery from this horrible disease, as the hospital staff works to provide the best care possible.

Health care delivery happens in a team setting, and all team members must be vigilant — nurses and doctors, aides and techs, hospital administrators and staff. We must seek out the latest information and evidence-based practices to respond to any emergency or infectious disease outbreak. Successfully containing this awful disease will require inter-professional collaboration and working in teams of nurses, physicians and other health care providers to properly treat and stop the spread of the disease. Health care facilities must also review their processes and continuously improve practices to ensure the safety of patients, the health care team and all involved.

From the American Nurses Association

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Oct. 12 that a nurse employed by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas tested positive for Ebola. … The nurse was a member of the heath care team that provided care to Thomas Eric Duncan while he was in isolation in the hospital. Duncan, who traveled to Texas from Liberia, died from Ebola Oct. 8. The nurse wore full protective gear while caring for Duncan. CDC officials report that a breach in protocol may have occurred at some point. They are looking closely at high-risk procedures that were performed on Duncan.

We urge all hospitals and health care workers to engage in comprehensive education and preparedness activities to ensure the safety of the public and health care professionals. We have the utmost confidence health care providers are eager to take part in learning protocols that will protect health care workers and keep patients safe. However, it is essential that the CDC quickly investigate and fully share the findings surrounding the care of Thomas Eric Duncan to help health care providers understand any further precautions needed to prevent transmission of the disease. It is only through rapid review and learning from this situation that we will prevent further incidents from happening.

We will continue to work with the CDC and other health care agencies to accelerate the education of health care professionals about appropriate infection control and other protocols. ANA has shared CDC resources with its members, including instructions about how to put on and safely remove personal protective equipment.

Stop Ebola: Send aid to West Africa

By Charles Redding

The World Health Organization estimates Ebola cases could soon reach 10,000 a week in West Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports it has received 800 calls a day since the first case of Ebola was diagnosed here in the U.S. Dallas-area medical supply stores report a 75-percent increase in personal protection equipment purchases by local citizens.

As U.S. hospitals scramble for more information on how to protect their health care workers from Ebola, one thing is clear: The only outbreak spreading in our country is fear. U.S. health care professionals will make honest mistakes in treating Ebola cases, but those mistakes will not result in a widespread Ebola epidemic in this country, because the virus is not spread through casual contact.

Charitable organizations continue to reach out to nations such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to assist with basic health care needs in the region — providing critical support in treating the Ebola crisis.

Hospitals and clinics in these poor West African countries do not have the staff and infrastructures necessary to stem this outbreak on their own. In Liberia, for example, the Ministry of Health reported this year that before the Ebola outbreak, that nation only had 50 doctors working in public health facilities that served 4.3 million residents.

The only way to contain this outbreak is to focus our own resources in West Africa. On a recent visit to the CDC, President Barack Obama stressed the important role international nonprofit organizations play in helping combat this epidemic.

MedShare International, based in Atlanta, is one of those organizations. We are shipping items such as rubber gloves, masks, gowns, syringes, infrared thermometers and face shields – all donated from major corporations or by local hospitals. With generous donations from people who want to help, we have shipped seventeen 40-foot containers, and have supplies available to ship another seven containers in the next month. Many of these items are non-existent in West Africa.

These items have been sent to the disaster zone from the first days of the Ebola crisis. We have been sending supplies to poor health systems worldwide for years. Now, with Ebola, supplies that would last months are used in a matter of days. These nations need more and will continue to ask us for more even months after the crisis ends.

Each day, Americans passively watch news accounts and see thousands of people contracting this deadly disease half a world away. Then, fear hits home when a handful of cases enter the U.S. If we want to be proactive and help prevent Ebola from entering our communities, we must support the charities working day and night to protect health care workers in Africa.

It is the only way we can help those who care for the afflicted, and the only way to prevent its continued spread. It is our responsibility.

Charles Redding is president and CEO of MedShare International, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that collects unused medical supplies and equipment to send to the developing world.

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