Helping our hospitals prepare for Ebola

October 25, 2014

In recent weeks, I have met with hospital officials in our area to discuss their readiness to handle Ebola cases. Each hospital showed a high level of confidence in their ability to treat Ebola cases safely with little or no risk to their medical professionals or the public.

Each hospital has taken steps to prepare their staff in the unlikely event that an Ebola case presents at their hospital, including the use of the protective gear. Removal of contaminated gear is the procedure most likely to result in an infection and must be practiced to make sure there are no errors that would result in exposure. Each hospital has procedures in place to screen patients to identify possible Ebola infections and respond as appropriate.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has teams of experts ready to assist hospitals around the country if Ebola cases do emerge. In addition, the President has appointed an Ebola czar, Ron Klain, to oversee federal actions regarding Ebola. Mr. Klain will facilitate federal steps to aid local hospitals and overcome jurisdictional issues such as local laws that prevent the shipment and final disposal of infected materials so they do not accumulate on hospital grounds.

The hospital officials I met with identified the following concerns.

  • The CDC has not been consistent or thorough in issuing clear safety guidelines for health care workers;
  • Although each hospital has protective gear, the new CDC guidelines called for a higher level of protective gear not yet widely available, and it will take time to procure such gear.
  • There are roadblocks to storing and shipping contaminated gear to final disposal sites.

I have sent a letter asking the CDC to take action to address these concerns. It is essential that the CDC provide health care workers with clear protocols and accompanying videos demonstrating the proper use of protective gear. The CDC also should establish a reserve of the highest level of protective gear and other special equipment that, along with Ebola experts, can be dispatched to any hospital in the country if needed. Additionally, the CDC should provide guidance on when to employ resuscitation measures with patients in organ failure. Finally, the CDC must establish methods for disposal of contaminated waste.

I support the Administration’s decision to monitor travelers who have returned from high-risk countries for Ebola symptoms for 21-days and to increase scanning of travelers returning from high-risk countries. We must continue our monitoring of high-risk travelers and take any other reasonable steps to prevent more cases from reaching our shores. I also strongly support American involvement in efforts to help contain the disease in high-risk countries of West Africa, as this is our best approach to prevent Ebola cases here at home.

I share the confidence of our local hospitals in their ability to safely handle Ebola if it surfaces in our region.