Step 1 in Preparing for Ebola: Remain Calm

October 31, 2014

I would be lying if I said I would not be scared if confronted with an Ebola patient, but that's all the more reason to actively pitch in and prepare.

Ebola precautions are taking firm root in every level of our society. While we do not have a confirmed case (yet) in California, the public health departments statewide are working overtime on Ebola preparedness and education.

At our community hospital, the medical and nursing staff is spending a substantial amount of time preparing our hospital for the potential appearance and diagnosis of a case of Ebola. These preparations can be a challenge to hospitals of any size and require strong leadership and planning, especially as many community hospitals throughout the country have been ill-equipped to handle this epidemic.

In our community hospitals, we are working on measures that will enable us to rapidly identify and isolate infected patients in a safe and organized manner, while preparing for immediate transfer to a higher level of care at one of the four facilities with the equipment and training personnel needed to deal with something as virulent as Ebola.

When looking at the mortality and infection rates of Ebola, it is easy to see how fear has spread among the public, often taking precedent over the sound, scientific knowledge about this viral disease. As educated and trained healthcare professionals, one of the best things we can do to quell the hysteria and spread of misinformation is to promote factual information and be prepared for any emergency throughout our hospitals.

Physicians, PAs, and other healthcare providers have always been on the front lines of disease in this country. We have substantial training and experience in dealing with many different infectious and contagious diseases and are trusted by our patients to provide them with the best information and treatment possible. We need to put this knowledge and experience at the forefront in reassuring the members of our community that this disease, while exceedingly dangerous, can be contained, controlled, and defeated if we all work together calmly.

The "House of God," a satirical novel chronicling the psychological trials and tribulations to which first-year medical interns and residents are subjected in their training, has some words of wisdom that emergency situations at our hospitals often call to mind. Published in 1978, the book was formerly commonplace among medical PA students and features a number of “rules of medicine.” One of my favorites is number three: At the onset of a cardiac arrest, the first procedure is to take your own pulse.

I would be lying to you if I said that I would not be scared if confronted with a symptomatic Ebola patient. I am working hard with my medical staff to in order to have all staff throughout the hospital fully educated and prepared in the event somebody infected with Ebola crosses the threshold of our community hospital.

There is no doubt that while we can prepare ourselves to both treat and educate the public about Ebola, this disease is a global problem that will need to be solved abroad in order to be solved at home. PA John Oliphant recently put into perspective how this crisis is affecting Liberia, one of the hardest hit countries in West Africa.

To date, the virus has killed almost 5,000 in West Africa, in a population of over four million people, and few physicians. Prior to the epidemic, medical care was provided primarily by over 1,000 PAs who have been trained in Liberia since 1965. More than 170 healthcare workers, including many PAs have died trying to treat the overwhelming number of Ebola patients in this country, largely due to lack of protective medical equipment.

Ebola is a global threat, and requires a global response. We have always had a robust public health system in this country. We have the expertise, trained professionals, and protective equipment to safely treat patients, in addition to other assets needed to assist with the containment of this is disease on a worldwide scale. We need to put them to use as soon as possible. Taking a position of "isolationism" will do nothing but expand the reach of Ebola, making the crisis much worse than it already is. We cannot look the other way as health professionals, or as a nation.

I am proud that members of my profession are on the front lines in Liberia doing the best that they can with a paucity of resources, medication, and personnel. This motivates me to do more, and all that I can to assist in the worldwide response to the Ebola crisis. I hope that it motivates you also.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.