Intake workers at Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System, whose network of public hospitals and clinics receive nearly 600,000 visits a year, have begun asking incoming patients about their international travels under new protocols implemented to protect physicians, nurses and other patients from Ebola.
Additionally, healthcare workers with the greatest likelihood of having the initial encounter with an Ebola patient or caring for one — including those in the intensive care units, emergency rooms and community clinics — will receive special training on the disease, the proper protocols for treatment, and the best gear for personal protection from the virus.
If any visitor to a Jackson facility reports having traveled to West Africa in the past month, and shows any symptoms of Ebola, such as a fever or headache, then healthcare workers will don protective suits, isolate the patient and perform lab tests, said Jackson CEO Carlos Migoya on Wednesday during a presentation before the health and social services committee of the Miami-Dade County Commission.
The next steps would be to contact the Florida Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine whether that patient should be tested for Ebola, Migoya said.
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“The most important element here is strong communication about the procedures, both within our own staff and with our partner agencies,” he said.
Migoya addressed Jackson’s preparedness plans at the request of Miami-Dade commissioners, and after a second healthcare worker in Texas tested positive for Ebola this week — raising concerns among state and local health officials about the safety of the physicians, nurses and others on the front lines of responding to the deadly virus.
But Migoya was careful to put the threat of Ebola into context.
“Ebola is not the most contagious disease or the most deadly disease you are likely to encounter in a South Florida hospital,” he said, noting that malaria and tuberculosis are far more common and likely to spread.
“Even the flu,” he said, “causes up to 49,000 deaths per year in our country, and far more hospitalizations.”
People with Ebola are not contagious until they are symptomatic, public health officials say. The virus can be spread through direct contact with bodily fluids or tainted medical equipment, according to CDC guidelines.
Still, Migoya acknowledged, there’s public anxiety about Ebola.
Gov. Rick Scott, who is campaigning for reelection, issued a statement early Wednesday announcing that he had asked the CDC to hold a conference call with Florida hospitals on the best training and personal protection protocols in the event that the state has an Ebola patient.
Late Tuesday, Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of the Department of Health John Armstrong released a letter to the CDC notifying the agency that the state intends to redirect about $7 million in federal grants intended for hospital and public health emergency preparedness and instead use those funds to purchase equipment to protect healthcare workers.