Snyder: Michigan has 1,000 isolation beds for Ebola

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

The Ebola strategy outlined by Gov. Rick Snyder Wednesday was criticized as overly broad by one expert for failing to designate a single hospital to potentially treat the deadly disease.

Flanked by Michigan Department of Community Health Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Mathew Davis — who are leading Michigan’s Ebola response — Snyder said Michigan has launched an expansive preparedness effort, though not a single case of the Ebola virus has been detected in the state.

Michigan’s 191 hospitals include roughly 1,000 isolation beds that can be used to treat Ebola if needed, Snyder said. The Michigan Department of Community Health could not immediately provide details on where in the state those beds are located or which hospitals don’t have them.

All Michigan hospitals are prepared to identify Ebola and isolate suspected cases, though not all hospitals have the advanced skills and equipment to provide treatment for Ebola patients, said David Seaman, executive vice president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

Snyder also noted that Michigan is among 14 states with a laboratory capable of testing for the Ebola virus. Davis, the chief doctor, said the laboratory has not yet performed any Ebola tests because there have been no suspected cases in the state.

“Ebola is hopefully a low-threat, low-risk problem in the state of Michigan, but it’s a serious one,” Snyder said. “This is an evolving situation ... (and) we’re preparing to adjust as circumstances change.”

But Michigan should designate one hospital to receive patients suspected of carrying the virus, said Wally Hopp, a University of Michigan professor who works with hospitals to reduce rates of hospital-acquired infections, medication errors and other mistakes.

“What’s becoming clear is that the level of preparedness and adherence to protocol that’s required to deal with Ebola is higher than you can expect from all of the hospitals,” said Hopp, a professor of industrial and operations engineering at UM. “Given that, it makes sense to say we can’t elevate everybody to the level we need.

“We’ve got a disease we just can’t goof around with here. This is something we don’t want getting out at all.”

Ebola is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids and has been responsible for thousands of deaths in West Africa as well as the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who visited Texas and became the first death in the United States from the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies Ebola as Level 4 biosafety hazard, and four hospitals in the country have such biosafety hazard treatment facilities — Atlanta; Bethesda, Maryland; Omaha, Nebraska; and Hamilton, Montana.

One nurse who treated the now-deceased Liberian and became infected was transferred to Emory University Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unit in Atlanta, which is where the first two U.S. Ebola patients were treated — both health missionary workers who were in Liberia. Another Texas nurse who became infected after treating Duncan is at the National Institutes of Health hospital in Bethesda.

A U.S. freelance television cameraman and a U.S. health worker both contracted the virus in Africa, were treated at the Nebraska hospital and were released when they were Ebola-free.

Michigan needs to choose a single hospital for treatment, Hopp said, even though the federal CDC has yet to announce whether a Michigan hospital will be part of a network of regional hospitals to receive suspected or confirmed Ebola cases. The CDC has not yet identified which hospitals will be included, but a CDC spokesman said Wednesday details of the network will be released imminently.

“Whether Michigan will have a regional Ebola treatment center is a matter of ongoing discussion with the CDC,” said Davis, Michigan’s chief doctor.

Nurses in Michigan and nationwide charged last week they lack both the training and proper equipment to deal with the deadly disease.

State health director Lyon said the Department of Community Health has been in daily contact with the CDC as its protocols for safety procedures evolve. The public health department has coordinated several statewide conference calls with hospitals, including a briefing on new infection control protocols released Tuesday by the CDC.

Snyder’s news conference included cabinet officials from the State Police as well as the departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources, and Agriculture and Rural Development. Barbara Medvec, a senior vice president with Oakwood Health System and Michigan’s chief nurse executive, also attended.

The state’s Community Health Emergency Coordination Center has been activated, as well as the Michigan State Police Emergency Management & Homeland Security Division.

Davis, the chief doctor, said the Department of Community Health has been working with local ambulance services to ensure that emergency medical technicians have the training and personal protective equipment required to transport patients with suspected or confirmed Ebola to an appropriate treatment center.