October 16, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Nurses staffing medical centers throughout the state say that some of the hospitals where they work are not doing enough to properly train them in caring for infectious Ebola patients.
There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in New York State, but a second nurse in Dallas, Texas has contracted the often deadly disease after treating a patient who recently returned from West Africa. That patient ultimately died. Some 75 healthcare workers in Dallas are presently being monitored for possible exposure to the virus.
The New York State Nurses Association [NYSNA] is now in the process of compiling complaints from nurses across the state in an effort to identify those hospitals that aren’t doing a good enough job of properly training healthcare workers in how to protect themselves from Ebola.
Medical experts concede that working with the kind of personal protection equipment needed to treat Ebola patients safely is difficult to work in, and also difficult to remove safely.
“Putting on a video, or handing out leaflets on how to do it, is not acceptable,” said NYSNA Occupational Health & Safety Representative Lisa Baum. “You need a trainer who knows how to use the equipment doing hands on training with the staff.”
That’s not happening in all cases, according to the feedback NYSNA has gotten so far.
More than 200 doctors and nurses treating Ebola patients in West Africa have died this year. It is believed that some of those deaths can be attributed to a breakdown in proper safety protocols.
According to Baum, nurses and other health care workers throughout New York State should be getting experience repeatedly donning and removing personal protection equipment safely, so that they become completely comfortable with the complex process.
“The Centers for Disease Control [CDC] is also recommending a buddy system where you have someone watching and helping, and that’s also very important,” said Baum.
NYCOSH – the New York City Committee for Occupational Safety & Health – is expected to release its own report on Ebola and worker safety this week.
Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan is New York City’s designated Ebola intake site in the event of an outbreak here. The institution has a long and storied history treating infectious diseases.
Anne Bove, a nurse educator at Bellevue with nearly 40 years of experience at the hospital, is confident that her institution is well prepared to handle any emergency. But even Bove cautions that a certain amount of risk remains.
“I’m not going to say that everyone is perfect 100-percent of the time because then I’d be lying,” Bove said. “But 99-percent of the staff understands what the deal is. That’s why they work here.”
Workers who routinely encounter biohazards in other industries – like bridge painters removing lead-based paint from steel superstructures – are often furnished with onsite decontamination showers.
But the Centers for Disease Control is presently not mandating such facilities when dealing with infected Ebola patients.
“I think it’s an extra level of protection, and we believe that the precautionary principal should be followed – which is you use the highest level of protection possible,” Baum said. "Particularly, when you’re talking about a disease where healthcare workers providing direct patient care are at high risk.”
While healthcare workers have reason to be concerned, Baum says that the general population is not at high risk for Ebola contamination.