Council drills Montgomery Co. health chief over Ebola response

ROCKVILLE, Md. – So far no confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported in Montgomery County but county officials are taking steps to make sure local medical providers are prepared, the county’s chief health official said Tuesday.

Dr. Ulder Tillman, the health officer for Montgomery County, told the county council that the area could see a case based on the region’s demographics. The county is home to a large international community plus businesses and non-gonvernmental organizations that have missions in the West African nations hardest hit by Ebola: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“All of our hospitals are going to need to be prepared” to handle a patient with Ebola, Tillman told concrned council members.

Tillman said that staff had been posting updated information on the county’s website, and said there is a need for training and practice.

“We need to practice from our pre-hospital response with our EMS, to our hospital response working with our state and our federal partners as well,” she said.

Tillman told reporters that teams of health care workers were getting briefed Tuesday afternoon. And she said workers would be undergoing practice sessions on transmission including drilling on how to put on and remove protective gear.

Council members wondered about the degree of preparation health care workers have received.

Councilman Phil Andrews told Tillman that he’d gotten a call from a concerned constituent who offers dental care through the county. Andrews said the caller told him “she hadn’t heard anything directly from the (health) department about what kind of protocols to follow.”

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Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Ulder Tillman addresses the county council Tuesday about her agency’s response to the threat of Ebola. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Council President Craig Rice said he’s unsure if local hospitals were ready to treat an Ebola patient.

And Councilman Marc Elrich said he wants all health professionals, not just those in emergency rooms, to be able to spot and isolate Ebola patients.

Elrich wondered if most health care workers have been trained for example, to screen patients by asking them if they’ve recently traveled to the countries affected by Ebola.

“Even if I’m just calling my dentist, and had to go in tomorrow, I want that person to ask me where I’ve been,” Elrich said.

Councilman Roger Berliner expressed doubt about the ability of most hospitals to adequately respond to the potentially deadly disease.

“I think it asks too much of our hospitals to all be ‘state-of-the-art’ when it comes to this kind of disease,” Berliner said, referencing the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, which includes special isolation facilities.

Instead, Berliner said if he were the president, he’d likely have those with Ebola treated at specially designated facilities where they could be treated in isolation.

Both Dallas patients have been treated in isolation.

The county has posted information about the deadly virus and how residents can safeguard against it here.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @kateryanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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