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MSHA takes proactive approach toward possible Ebola exposure

With the Ebola virus making headlines in the United States and around the world in recent weeks, U.S. health officials have stressed that our country is well equipped to prevent the spread of the virus within our borders. As with any infectious disease threat, preparation is the key, and Mountain States Health Alliance has been proactive in making sure that local healthcare providers and other key stakeholders know exactly what to do if anyone who has been exposed to the virus should visit our region.
“With the amount of international travel that occurs, we do know there’s the potential for an exposed traveler to be in our area. However, the risk of Ebola transmission or spread is very low due to the level of health care available,” said Jamie Swift, director of Infection Prevention at Mountain States Health Alliance. “The big thing is having a plan in place and knowing what to do. We’ve already done a huge amount of planning, so we’re ready.”
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is centered in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone and is affecting several other countries in that region. Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The disease spreads by direct contact with blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola; direct contact with contaminated objects, like needles; or close contact with infected animals or their meat. The disease is not spread through the air and is much more difficult to spread than flu or the common cold.
According to MSHA, if cases are caught early and the patient is isolated and treated, the success rate is good. That is a difficult task in countries that lack a strong healthcare infrastructure, the organization says, but here in the United States, nearly every hospital has the facilities and equipment needed to successfully prevent Ebola from spreading. All that’s needed is proper education on when and how to make use of those resources.
Mountain States has taken precautions, primarily through educating team members about the disease. The organization has:
Stayed in regular contact with the Department of Health regarding the Ebola threat and constantly monitored updates from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Undergone extra training on Ebola and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment like gloves, gowns and masks for hospital team members.
Ordered additional medical supplies that might be needed to handle an Ebola case.
Distributed Ebola information to physicians and to outpatient, urgent care and other Mountain States facilities. This includes reminders of what questions to ask every patient (such as travel history) and who to call if an individual’s history indicates that they may have been previously exposed to Ebola.
Placed signage at all emergency departments telling patients to inform the receptionist if they’ve traveled outside the U.S. in the last 30 days or have been in contact with someone who is sick and traveled outside the U.S. in the last month.
“One of the most crucial precautions is to screen every patient at the outset to see whether they’ve recently traveled to a high-risk area,” Swift said. “At Mountain States, we’ve routinely screened for travel history for years, so that question is asked very early-on in the triage process.”
Mountain States also performed a “table-top” exercise on Friday in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Health and other local healthcare organizations. All Mountain States facilities participated, along with representatives from Wellmont Health System, the Mountain Home VA Medical Center, East Tennessee State University, Milligan College and King College.
“That’s basically a walk-through of the scenario that gives us a chance to really look at our plans and see if there is anything we’re missing,” Swift said. “We’ve got plans in place at Mountain States that we’re comfortable with, but this is a deeper dive into it for a look at all the ‘what-ifs,’ just to make sure we’re ready.”
“From the Board of Directors all the way to our front-line team members, Mountain States is well prepared to handle any challenge that may present in our region,” said Alan Levine, president and CEO of Mountain States. “As with any infectious disease, it’s also important for the public to stay educated and respond appropriately. Even though Ebola is not an immediate threat in our region today, cold and flu season is quickly approaching, so good hygiene habits like hand washing and avoiding close contact with people who are sick are smart choices for everyone.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a comprehensive education guide for the public at www.cdc.gov/ebola.