Nurses don’t think hospitals prepared for Ebola, survey finds

WASHINGTON — A national survey of the nation’s nurses shows they don’t think hospitals are prepared to handle the Ebola virus.

Eighty percent of nurses say their hospitals haven’t communicated any policy for handling potential Ebola admissions, according to the nation’s largest nurses’ union, National Nurses United.

“Respondents to the survey from all across the U.S. are telling us, just like I’m seeing, the hospitals are not changing what they’re doing and the preparedness is not getting through to the front line caregivers,” said Stephen Frum, chief shop steward at Medstar Washington Hospital Center.

A Medstar Washington Hospital Center has provided infection control training and education since July. And those efforts have redoubled since the diagnosed case in Dallas, says Dr. Bill Frohna, chairman of the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

And during the weekend, staff in his department received in-service training on the topic.

“Our nurses probably are more well-prepared than they believe,” Frohna says.

National Nurses United says it’s calling for the nation’s hospitals to upgrade emergency preparations because of what happened when the only person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil sought help in Dallas. The Dallas hospital initially failed to hospitalize the Ebola-infected patient and didn’t properly communicate essential information to caregivers about his health status, the union said.

“I’m trying to put myself in the place of someone who’s going to deliver this care,” says clinical nurse Frum, sounding frustrated as he details what he sees as Ebola preparedness deficiencies at Medstar which is D.C.’s largest hospital.

“I’m not really able to articulate because my employer hasn’t laid out ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it on this unit. Here’s where the supplies are going to be. Here’s a chart showing what you’re supposed to do with all these things,'” Frum said.

Frohna says the hospital is equipped and ready to respond to an Ebola patient.

The hospital and nurses have been employing infection control practices for decades – standards that were rolled out to battle the H1N1 flu virus, MERS, SARS and even tuberculosis in recent years, he says.

Masks are available to any patient who enters the ER, signs in multiple languages direct patients to tell staff if they have traveled to West Africa and the hospital has enough gear to protect staff from the deadly virus, Frohna says.

Although the emergency room staff will be on the front lines of detection and infection control, Frohna says training and educational programs are being doled out through the hospital, which is staffed by as many as 2,000 nurses.

Some of the survey results of 700 registered nurses at more than 250 hospitals in 31 states:

  • 87 percent have not received Ebola education that allows nurses to interact and ask questions.
  • 80 percent have failed to receive from their hospitals any policy regarding admission of potential Ebola patients.
  • Nearly 40 percent say their hospitals don’t have plans to get rid of used linens or plans to equip isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows.
  • One-third say their hospitals don’t have enough protective gear such as face shields, side shields with goggles, fluid resistant or impermeable gowns.

The issue of Ebola training has come up at the bargaining table during contract negotiations at Medstar, Reuters reports.

Staffing is an issue raised by both shop steward Frum and the union for hospitals to have what the union considers appropriate emergency preparedness plans for Ebola or other outbreaks.

NNU suggests all U.S. hospitals have the following:

  • Sufficient staffing to accommodate the potential need for health workers to care for patients in isolation.
  • Properly equipped isolation rooms.
  • Adequate supplies on hand of personal protective equipment and hazardous materials suits.
  • Full training of all hospital personnel to include specified protocols and training materials for responding to outbreaks.

Speaking for the union, Frumm says a uniform standard coordinated across the country is necessary because hospital chains owned by competing independent companies nationwide don’t have to follow suggestions from the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention.

“Our point is not to alarm anyone. There’s no reason to panic. What we’re calling for is readiness,” said Frum.

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