State's preparedness measures are strong; hospitals must continue to drill with employees

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Concerns over the potential spread of Ebola in the U.S. continue as a New York City doctor from Metro Detroit and two Dallas nurses who contracted the disease from a now-deceased Liberian man are being treated. One of the nurses was recently in Cleveland.

While the likelihood of Ebola reaching Michigan is unknown, Metro Detroit is a highly international area, with an airport that serves as a hub for international flights. State leaders must ensure statewide agencies, local communities and healthcare centers — namely nurses and likely first responders at those centers — are thoroughly prepared to deal with a case of Ebola, should it come.

Gov. Rick Snyder and leaders in the state's health care community have assured residents of the state's preparedness several times over the past two weeks.

Preparedness measures include daily communication among multiple parties on evolving federal government guidelines, and a "Level 2" activation of the Community Health Emergency Communications Center.

That means the state is leading daily assessments of the risk of Ebola in Michigan and travelers coming to Michigan, assessment of readiness in health care facilities, and active support to hospitals and staff as they continue to update their preparedness.

Not all hospitals in Michigan are prepared to fully treat a patient with Ebola. But "every hospital should be able to identify, isolate, and transfer a patient with Ebola," said David Seaman, executive vice president of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

According to state leaders, 119 of Michigan's roughly 135 hospitals have potential isolation beds in which a patient could be contained until transferred to a facility with more means for treatment.

It's unreasonable to expect every hospital in the state, particularly small ones, to be prepared to handle long-term Ebola treatment. Regional hospitals such as the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor are far better suited to handle full treatment of patients with the disease.

But since a person knowingly or unknowingly with Ebola could walk into any emergency room in Michigan, it's critical those who would physically handle a patient be prepared to do so correctly.

The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA), which represents nearly 11,000 nurses statewide, says its ongoing survey indicates nurses are not ready to deal with Ebola.

"There are always drills going on, and hospitals deal with infection control all the time," said Ann Sincox, public relations and communications liason at MNA. "But wearing a full hazmat suit is not something nurses are prepared to do on a regular basis."

Lack of proper gear and inadequate training may have contributed to the two Texas nurses contracting the disease. Michigan should avoid those mistakes.

Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive of the Michigan Department of Community Health, said he has "yet to speak to a hospital that has not done a drill." But he doesn't have a concrete number of how many in the state have conducted them.

As protocols continue to change, it's undoubtedly a challenge to ensure each Michigan hospital is fully prepared to accept a person with Ebola.

State officials should ensure hospitals and health care workers are confident knowing what clothing, first steps and isolation procedures should be enacted if they encounter a patient with Ebola.

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