Ebola Reveals Weaknesses in Provider Preparedness

quarantine travel

The world is in the midst of an officially declared public health emergency with the Ebola outbreak. Unfortunately the world has also discovered that—though we (health care) train and educate and write detailed disaster response plans—to date there have been at least two significant failure points that leaves many wondering “Are we truly prepared?”


These failure points include an airline passenger from an affected region allegedly being untruthful during his Ebola screening and arriving in the U.S.

Another is an emergency room staff miscommunication of a health history including that the patient had been in an infected region and had direct contact while transporting an infected person.

On the other hand, we could expect to see what recently occurred in a Chicago hospital when a patient lied about traveling from an infected region and was placed in isolation based on his evaluation.

The majority of subject matter experts advising and keeping the world abreast of the Ebola situation agree that the opportunity for a massive worldwide outbreak is very low. The CDC says Ebola poses no significant threat to the general population in the U.S. They are steadfast that Ebola can be contained if we follow simple prevention steps and comply with accepted protocols.

Hospital Staff

This is not a time for panic, but in health care it is the time to validate that staff and health care providers understand their roles when a person is suspected, is infected or has come into contact with someone suspected of having the Ebola virus.

Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit

Ebola virus researcher in a biosafety level 4 hazmat suit. Photo credit: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

We must keep in mind that as health care professionals we are ahead of the curve but to Jane or John Q. Public what do you think their response to the  following survey could be? Would it promote confidence in providers?

Media reports frequently quoted a survey released Friday, October 3, 2014 by National Nurses United, the United States’ largest nurses union. They purport that updated preliminary results from nearly 700 RNs at over 250 hospitals in 31 states show that emergency preparations for Ebola in the U.S. need immediate upgrade:

  • 80% say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola
  • 87% say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola with the ability for the nurses to interact and ask questions
  • One-third say their hospital has insufficient supplies of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) and fluid resistant/impermeable gowns
  • Nearly 40% say their hospital does not have plans to equip isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows and discard all linens after use; less than 10% said they were aware their hospital does have such a plan in place
  • More than 60% say their hospital fails to reduce the number of patients they must care for to accommodate caring for an “isolation” patient

This is also not the time to consider a patient’s ability to pay for access to healthcare providers for screening or treatment of Ebola. This could impede efforts in reducing the spread of the disease whether through delayed requests for screening and/or treatment and the identification of others who may be at risk.

Supply Chain Vendors and Other Business Partners

Confirming your supply chain and key vendors are onboard and committed to providing services under your agreement is another important aspect of your plan. One of the most important vendors in the supply chain has been identified as your hazardous waste removal vendor.

Health care providers should also work with funeral homes to verify they are aware of the unique requirements for handling remains infected with Ebola. Many hospitals release bodies from their morgues, policies need to reflect preventing the spread of the virus from this area as well.

Now, would also be a good time to test your current vendors and partners abilities to respond and comply with precautions. Identify and have contingent back-ups if current suppliers/vendors are not able or willing to perform the services required to help stop the spread of this or another communicable disease.

About Deana Allen

Deana E. Allen is Senior Vice President of the Willis Towers Watson National Health Care Practice, based in Atlanta…
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