IRVING – Visitors to facilities across the TLC Health Network system will see new signs on the exterior of public entrances, a sign of caution in light of the current Ebola threat in West Africa and the U.S. Recently, health officials at Lake Shore Health Care Center in Irving conducted an “unannounced” training exercise focusing on protocols in their admissions procedures to ensure compliance by staff with the latest state and federal guidelines.
“Being in this area, people think this could never happen here, but individuals travel today for many reasons. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared for any scenario,” Ms. Cunningham said. Ebola is an infectious and generally fatal disease marked by fever and severe internal bleeding. According to information provided by federal health officials, it is spread through contact with infected body fluids (not airborne), contaminated objects such as needles, or infected animals.
Last week’s “unannounced” training was conducted at Lake Shore Health Care Center in compliance with a directive from New York State health officials giving hospitals a 10 day deadline. Without notice to the hospital’s Admissions Department staff, an individual came to the Registration Department window, complaining of illness. At that moment, she was asked the right question by the clerk: “Have you traveled out of the country recently?” From there, the process moved quickly, Ms. Cunningham said.
“We did an excellent job because the question was asked immediately,” she noted. Individuals who meet specific criteria – certain illness symptoms or time recently spent in certain locations – must be placed in a negative pressure room and staff must use appropriate gear and supplies. The negative pressure room is a specially-designed area of the facility’s Emergency Department with an air treatment process which will not allow potentially contaminated air flow to travel beyond the room.
Once the mock-patient was in the appropriate room and a nurse was assigned to the patient, Ms. Cunningham stepped in to say that a drill had been under way and reviewed all the steps that had been taken.
“We looked at the protocols, our equipment, our supplies. We’re always looking for ways to improve,” Ms. Cunningham said. “We feel that we’re meeting the current (state and federal) criteria but we can always improve upon what’s being suggested with additional training.”
According to Ms. Cunningham, officials in Irving regularly review daily updates on the state and federal levels from the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Generally, the DOH reports on any possible travelers in the state and their risk categories, while the CDC issues guidelines for the proper training in the protective equipment worn by health care workers and other infection control issues.
Patricia Dole, Divisional Director of Quality for TLC Health Network, reiterated the focus on this current issue. “The state has been in regular contact with us daily with updates, guidance, and hospitals have been taking it seriously,” she noted. “We’re following the New York State updates everyday and we will meet those requirements and will make sure our staff is trained on the up-to-date information for Ebola and other health issues.”
While regulations are under review on a daily basis, the New York State Health Commissioner has ordered each facility to appoint a 24-hour “point person” to ensure that current protocols are being followed, Ms. Cunningham said. The TLC Health Network official said she felt President Obama’s creation of the “Rapid Response Team” and the decision to move Ebola patients in the U.S. to specialized treatment centers is a “positive thing.”
New signage on the entrances to Lake Shore Health Care Center in Irving and TLC Health Network’s clinics in Gowanda and Forestville were “proactive” steps on the part of infection control officials, Ms. Cunningham explained. “The signs posted say “Health Advisory” and ask anyone who has traveled recently to West Africa or anyone who has been in the company of someone who has recently returned from Africa to notify our staff. We want to be as vigilant as possible,” Ms. Cunningham said.
What can the public do to help improve their chances to stay healthy? One of the simplest health practice, according to Ms. Cunningham, is still hand washing. “Use good hand washing hygiene. When you go into a store, wipe off the handle of the shopping cart. Anytime you think you will come into contact with a person or a surface, wash your hands. Don’t panic, but be aware of your surroundings.”
Anyone seeking additional information on Ebola is urged to talk to a health care provider or learn more from the DOH website at http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/ebola/ or the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/.
TLC Health Network provides quality health care services to families across Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, southern Erie County and surrounding communities. Its facilities include Lake Shore Health Care Center in Irving, Gowanda Urgent Care & Medical Center and Forestville Primary Care.