‘It has no boundaries’: Hospital, ambulance ramp up travel history screening as part of Ebola readiness efforts
WILLMAR -- As national fears escalate about the Ebola virus, Rice Memorial Hospital implemented new screening guidelines Wednesday to ensure sick patients are queried about their travel history.
WILLMAR - As national fears escalate about the Ebola virus, Rice Memorial Hospital implemented new screening guidelines Wednesday to ensure sick patients are queried about their travel history.
Similar precautions are being taken by the Willmar Ambulance Service, which also is working to spread information and education to emergency medical providers and 911 dispatchers throughout Kandiyohi County.
It’s among many steps being taken by the local health community to ready itself for the possibility of Ebola.
“We are working very hard to assure we are preparing ourselves for the worst-case scenario,” said Brad Hanson, operations manager of the Willmar Ambulance Service and environmental safety officer for Rice Memorial Hospital.
The screening process for travel history is based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wendy Ulferts, chief nursing officer at Rice Hospital, said during an update Wednesday evening with the hospital board of directors.
The watch list is for five countries in West Africa, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the Ebola epidemic has been concentrated since this spring. So far, local health providers aren’t screening patients for any travel to or from Texas, where the first three cases of Ebola in the U.S. were confirmed. The first case was in a man from Liberia who became sick in late September and died last week at a Dallas hospital.
The second and third were among nurses involved in the patient’s care.
One of the major challenges, Ulferts told the hospital board, is that the situation “changes every day.”
“We work hard trying to keep on top of what’s happening,” she said.
Hanson seconds that. He said his daily volume of email has quadrupled. “We’ve been on conference call after conference call,” he said.
A meeting of local health and emergency preparedness leaders on Wednesday included the Willmar Police Department and the Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office as well as representatives of the hospital, medical clinics and public health.
The goal is to have a coordinated response “so the message is clear to everyone,” Hanson said.
One current emphasis is on educating staff, especially those who are on the front lines of caring for patients, and training them in the safe use of personal protective equipment.
The news of Ebola’s spread to two nurses has sent waves of concern across the health care workforce in the U.S.
“That creates a lot of nervousness on the part of staff. We need to make sure we have staff who are prepared,” Ulferts said.
The ambulance service reviewed and revamped its personal protective equipment more than a week ago, Hanson said. “We started ramping up for this right away.”
Preparedness efforts also extend to regional communication with area ambulance services, many of which are staffed by part-time or volunteer EMTs.
Although health care facilities and emergency medical services have plenty of experience with other infectious diseases such as influenza, the severity of the Ebola virus has everyone on high alert, he said. “We don’t deal with highly infectious disease everyday. It has no boundaries. It could be anyone. … We really want to keep it from spreading and take the best care we can of patients.”