Oneida County health, emergency teams work on Ebola preparedness
It’s been just over a month since the Ebola virus first entered the United States, and became part of everyday conversation. Infected patients are in the newspapers, on television, in Texas or on the East Coast—seemingly far away from northern Wisconsin.
But a local coalition of health and emergency professionals in Oneida County can’t think that way. They must look at the much smaller picture.
“The Ebola situation has affected the nation right down to the local level,” said Oneida County Department of Health Director Linda Conlon. “Including clinics, hospitals, EMS, public health, emergency management and 911 dispatch. We have met to put plans in place, and then met again to evaluate those plans.” They go over strengths, weaknesses, gaps. “We have reviewed everything,” Conlon said, “and I feel comfortable saying we have discussed all aspects of keeping the community safe.”
Every one of those entities must have a plan directing their every move should they come in contact with a person who has or may have the Ebola virus. Conlon said they use guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and from the State of Wisconsin to set up procedures to isolate a patient, for example, if they meet certain criteria, until they can be transferred to a treatment facility. As more information is learned, it is passed along to the community health and safety partner groups.
Ministry Health Care has formed an incident management team to help coordinate within the Ministry system of hospitals and clinics.
“Ministry Health Care facilities have policies and plans in place for situations like this and we review and train with staff on a regular basis to ensure we are prepared in the event of an actual situation,” said Dr. Michael Clark, medical director of Ministry’s system wide Incident Management Team. “Hospital leaders across the system will continue to be on alert and take all necessary steps to remain prepared in the event the disease continues to spread in the US including the recent activation of a system wide Incident Command Team to assist with education, training and communications.”
There are four hospitals in Wisconsin which are designated to care for children and adults with Ebola, or suspected of carrying the virus. UW Madison Hospital and Froedert in Milwaukee would take care of adults, while American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison and Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee have been selected to care for children. While local community hospitals and clinics will not be treating the virus, the staff must be prepared to handle it. That includes stocking the personal protective equipment (PPE) that is so often mentioned as a lifesaver.
“We have had to get some of the parts of the PPE, like booties that go up to the knee,” Conlon said. “Because many of the hospitals and clinics are part of a network, that makes it easier to get two or three PPE kits to each of the smaller, rural facilities.”
This year the health department can add Ebola to the list of enemies they are fighting, like the flu, and some unnamed respiratory infections. Will they need to use this latest round of training? Director Conlon looks at the extra work philosophically. “I believe it is always good for us to test our preparedness, and get together to brush up on our skills,” she said. “It’s a good training tool.”