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Ebola—Is Westmoreland County Prepared?

By Ean Jury

For the past few months, fear of the unknown has arrested tongues all over the world because of one word—Ebola.

It’s emphasized in bold-faced type on the front page of The New York Times, in flashing headlines on world-news stations, across social-media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

While only four cases of infected patients have been reported in the United States, Ebola seems to be everywhere.

Since I work as a scribe, at Wesebolatmoreland Emergency Room, I am at high risk of coming into contact with this disease. Since I am a physician’s personal assistant, note taker, and partner, I follow the physician that I am assigned to everywhere, even into a room with an Ebola-infected patient. However, unlike my physician, I do not wear sterile gloves and a mask. I am completely exposed.

At this moment, there are few, if any, guidelines that specify what to do if you suspect you are infect with Ebola. However, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) has only one demand: go to the emergency room. Immediately. This singular rule was created in attempt to stop the disease from spreading.

The infected must report to the hospital. The infected must be isolated. That’s all we hear about. But what about those potentially exposed? What precautions or guidelines exist to protect those who are not infected with but have possibly been exposed to Ebola?

In response to Westmoreland Emergency Department’s growing concern for its employees, the board for the Westmoreland Emergency Medicine Specialists (W.E.M.S.) had a meeting about Ebola protection in October. The result of that meeting was the introduction of an impermeable suit to be worn by any physician or nurse responsible for an Ebola-infected patient.

While this suit is completely resistant to all fluid secretions, it is useful for protecting against Ebola only if worn from the first point of contact. Therefore, triage nurses, who are the first medical professionals to assess patients in the E.R., would need to wear this suit at all times to ensure optimal safety from contracting the disease. However, no one expects suited-up nurses working in the E.R. any time soon—not unless necessity demands it.

Recently, medical employees have become cautious, even scared, to come to work. An E.R. worker is 50 times more likely to contexcela healthract Ebola than anyone else. With those increased odds, why wouldn’t employees be afraid?

Gabrielle Bruzuda, a scribe at Westmoreland Hospital’s Emergency Room, said “I make only 10 dollars an hour. I am sorry, but if I hear someone comes to the E.R. with Ebola and I am working . . . I am gone. I do not make enough money to risk my life.”

To ensure employees that Westmoreland Hospital Emergency Room is safe from Ebola, Excela Health has posted signs on every computer screen that read, “At this time, there are NO known cases of Ebola in Pennsylvania.”

While I am sure this sign was intended to imbue confidence and relief to the staff, for me, it had an alternate effect. As an employee of Westmoreland Emergency Department, I find this sign brazen and unnecessary. While it’s true that there are zero reported cases of Ebola in Pennsylvania, the hospital has taken little or no pains to organize preventive measures.

“Wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.). Suspend use of any/all physical equipment and diagnostic testing. Contact the Infection Control Preventionist for Excela Health: 724-832-4000.”

This is theebola 2 extent of W.E.M.S.’ guidelines. Short. Concise. Simple. Though brevity often suggests organization, it can also suggest negligence. The hospital’s lackadaisical, “this won’t happen here” attitude could have dire consequences in the event of an uncontrollable epidemic.

Dr. James Sample, a physician at Westmoreland Hospital’s Emergency Room, said, “the scariest thing about Ebola is that there is no cure. Everyone is terrified about getting it. But as a physician, my job is to help a patient to the best of my ability. In this case, I am prepared to risk my life in order to help an Ebola-infected patient. If not me, then who else will help?”

While Westmoreland Emergency Room has attempted to make preparations to care for an Ebola patient, the truth of the matter is that there is nothing they can do to ensure everyone’s protection.

Realistically, even though it might not appear so, the W.E.M.S. board came up with the best possible solution for Ebola. Since no cure exists at this moment, our only manner of protection is to consciously avoid spreading the disease.

“We as a society just need to be more sanitary,” said Dr. Scott Harter, director at Latrobe Emergency Room. “We should be constantly washing our hands and trying to maintaining our distance from sick individuals. Cover your mouth when you cough, sneeze into a tissue, don’t shake hands during flu season, and always, always wash your hands. That’s really your best bet against Ebola . . . at least for now.”

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