Let me take an opportunity to share some thoughts on Ebola. It’s on all of our minds – and certainly has been at the top of every newscast. The nation is worried.
But I would urge everyone to take a deep breath and keep some perspective. The flu kills more than 20,000 people in the United States in an average year – about four times more than the number of Ebola deaths in this outbreak. I’m only noting those numbers to make the case that worrying about Ebola is understandable, but panicking about it is not.
NJHA and New Jersey’s hospitals have been gearing up for weeks as they have watched Ebola spread in West Africa. Fortunately, New Jersey has no known cases of Ebola at this time.
Ebola is not an airborne disease. It can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual. And an individual with Ebola isn’t contagious unless that person is showing symptoms. But Ebola, especially in its advanced stages, can be very contagious in direct contact situations. That’s why isolation precautions and personal protection for healthcare workers is so important.
Our hospitals are on high alert to watch for a potential Ebola case that could come to their facilities and to take immediate action to isolate that individual and implement full precautions to protect their staffs and their communities.
To that end, our hospitals have reviewed all appropriate policies and protocols; identified areas in the hospital that would be used for patient isolation; inventoried supplies including personal protective equipment for employees; and provided training and best practices to staff on patient identification, isolation, infection prevention and use of protective suits.
In addition, NJHA has joined with the state Department of Health in strongly encouraging all New Jersey hospitals to conduct Ebola drills in their emergency departments by Oct. 17. We have been in near-constant contact with the state’s public health officials since Ebola arrived in our country, and we appreciate that access and collaboration. In an emergency response, it’s important that we’re all working from the same playbook in protecting our patients, our healthcare workers and our broader communities.
And speaking of healthcare workers, I want to send a most heartfelt thank you to the nurses, physicians, laboratory workers, EMS personnel and others who have chosen a career of caring for others – even if that care could place them in harm’s way. Not only in this situation, but every day, they put their well-being at risk for all of us.
This Ebola situation is changing every day, every hour in fact. But each new development helps our healthcare system improve its preparedness. Public health officials have learned a great deal from the situation in Dallas, and lessons learned from that initial experience will be used to make our response better – and safer – for both our patients and our staff. Every acute care hospital in the state has the responsibility to be prepared to care for an individual with this virus – and that’s a role we take very seriously.