RIO RANCHO, N.M. — In the face of national worries about Ebola, local hospitals say they’re prepared to handle possible cases and keep the virus from spreading.
Dr. David Arredondo, executive medical director for Presbyterian Medical Group, which includes Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, said he wasn’t worried about Ebola because he felt the resources and expertise expended were enough to contain it. The risk to the average person is very low, he said.
“Our health and safety are probably threatened by a lot more things than this,” Arredondo said.
Arredondo, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center spokesman John Arnold and Lovelace Health System spokeswoman Laurie Volkin all said their organizations had protocols that would allow providers to care for potential Ebola patients while protecting other people, and all were communicating with the state Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay up-to-date on best practices.
According to the state Department of Health website, Ebola is spread when bodily fluids, including blood, feces, saliva and sweat, come into direct contact with broken skin or mucus membranes such as those in the eyes, nose and mouth. Contaminated objects such as needles and infected mammals can also cause more cases.
Hospital-grade disinfectants such as bleach kill Ebola. A dry surface that’s regularly disinfected won’t harbor the virus for more than 24 hours, but Ebola can survive in bodily fluids outside the body for several days at room temperature, according to the website.
Arredondo said patients who might have Ebola would probably come through urgent care facilities or emergency rooms because of how sick they would be.
In the course of the evaluation, providers would determine if the patient was at risk for having Ebola.
Arredondo said the criteria would be suffering from flu-like symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and body aches, and having traveled in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leona within the last three weeks.
If a patient met those criteria, providers would initiate a protocol for isolating the person and beginning more treatment and evaluation.
Training and preparation
Presbyterian and UNM clinical personnel have been conducting drills as well.
“One of the most important things we’re teaching our providers is how to put on and take off the protective clothing,” Arredondo said.
If the outside of the clothing is contaminated while the nurse or doctor is caring for an Ebola patient, it can become a source of infection, he said. So, providers in critical care areas are doing drills to practice taking off the clothes without touching the outside of them.
UNM health care personnel conducted a tabletop exercise last week to test their plans in real time and reassure themselves and the public that they were prepared, Arnold said.
Also, Arredondo said Presbyterian is creating teams of people with extra expertise and experience in dealing with Ebola, including a team of infectious disease doctors who are providing guidance. Arnold said the UNM team includes a former CDC epidemic intelligence service officer and a former Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease Ebola researcher.
“We are building on our daily infection control experience with other infectious diseases, our pandemic influenza experience, and our recent experience with a potential Ebola patient,” Arnold said.
Tests revealed the potential Ebola patient didn’t have the virus.
In the Presbyterian system, people from across the health care spectrum, from doctors to ambulance crews to individuals who clean rooms, meet daily to share information and make sure protocols and training are well-designed, Arredondo said.
“We’ve designed some online training for all of our providers, all of our physicians, all of our caregivers,” he said.