TAMPA — With a health care worker in Texas having contracted Ebola while caring for a patient with the disease, Tampa-area hospitals say they still are able - and ready - to treat anyone infected with the contagious virus.
Tampa General Hospital already has established a protocol for handling Ebola, including protective suits that are designed to keep health-care staff safe, and special air handling units in designated exam and hospital rooms.
“We're pretty well prepared,” said Ellen Fiss, spokeswoman for Tampa General. “The suits are higher quality than the ones the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends. We are taking the highest measures to protect our staff.”
If a patient checks in with symptoms of Ebola, Tampa General will isolate them immediately in rooms with negative air flow — air comes in from outside of the room and is not discharged into the rest of the hospital — even though health officials say the disease is not transmitted through the air.
A nurse in Dallas was diagnosed over the weekend with Ebola after recently treating an infected patient. The nurse had been covered in protective clothing while treating the patient; health officials say there must have been a breach in protocol that allowed her to become infected.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday asked Florida hospitals to provide their health-care professionals with Ebola-protection training.
“In light of what happened in Dallas, we want to make sure those health-care professionals on the front lines have the training and equipment they need to protect their health and safety,” the governor said in a statement. “We are asking every Florida hospital to mandate that all health-care professionals undergo Ebola preparedness training to ensure knowledge of protocols and availability of necessary personal protective equipment.
Officials with the Florida Department of Health were unavailable for comment Monday but said this online last week:
“If a patient with (Ebola) were to be diagnosed in Florida, the department would work closely with health-care partners to ensure appropriate patient care, protocols for isolation, infection control and risk assessment.”
The state's health department, in collaboration with the Agency for Health Care Administration, is working to implement a new reporting structure within all of Florida's 210 acute-care hospitals to document each facilities' preparedness to deal with contagious diseases, including availability of protective equipment, health-care worker education and training.
There are about 30 acute-care hospitals in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties.
They include large facilities like Tampa General, St. Joseph's Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Florida Hospital, all in Tampa and Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg; and smaller ones like Pasco Medical Center in Dade City and Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey.
St. Joseph's Hospital spokeswoman Lisa Patterson said “all the wheels are turning right now” to ensure the safety of all involved if a patient comes to the hospital with Ebola-type symptoms.
“We're working with our internal resources to make sure we are doing all we can to protect the health of the community, our patients and our team members ... It is something we take seriously all the time.”
Health care professionals at St. Joseph's Hospital are monitoring the Ebola situation and, “We are working with the involved government agencies on this,” Patterson said, including the CDC and the Florida Department of Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged health-care providers to be prepared, while also insisting that the United States isn't likely to see the kind of outbreak that has killed thousands of people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Mortality rates are expected to be much lower in countries with more sophisticated health-care systems.
The nurse at Texas Health Presbyterial Hospital in Dallas was the first case of Ebola contracted in the United States. The nurse had repeated contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, an Ebola patient from Liberia who was treated at the hospital before he died last week.
The nurse wore a gown, gloves, a mask and shield whenever she treated the sick man, but all the precautions weren't enough.
She was isolated immediately after displaying Ebola-like symptoms, said the CDC in a statement released Sunday, and investigators were checking people who had had contact with the nurse.
“The CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services remain confident that wider spread in the community can be prevented with proper public health measures including ongoing contact tracing, health monitoring among those known to have been in contact with the index patient and immediate isolations if symptoms develop,” the statement said.
The deadly disease is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person or exposure to objects such as needles that have been contaminated.