By Marisa Demarco
— Questions about whether hospitals are ready to handle Ebola patients are springing up around the country this week after two nurses contracted the virus in Dallas.
Fonda Osborn is with the Santa Fe chapter of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. The union got many phone calls this week from workers concerned about a lack of Ebola protocol after there was a short-lived scare at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe.
“We know that the workers in our hospital have not been prepared for infection control, certainly to the level that something like Ebola requires,” Osborn said. She sent a letter to the hospital requesting a meeting and asking that the hospital set up trainings. “These are going to have to be special, hands-on trainings for people to make sure that everybody understands how infection control needs to go.”
Osborne was a nurse at St. Vincent’s for nearly 23 years until she retired in 2011. Today, she represents the union in contract negotiations with the hospital. She said the Ebola-readiness concerns will play no part in those dealings, which are almost done.
When Osborne was in nursing school, she remembers stopping the spread of diseases being a top priority. “We had infection control nurses who monitored every temperature in the hospital,” she said. “But over the period of years, hospitals seemingly have put less emphasis on actually controlling infection.” This could be due to advances in antibiotics and drugs, Osborn acknowledged.
Though there are still infection control nurses, there isn’t nearly the kind of training that there used to be, Osborn said. They used to keep track of all of the patients and would investigate infections by doing bacterial cultures. “These days, with the productivity that hospitals expect out of their employees, sometimes I think corners are cut. And I believe … infection control is one of those places that corners have been cut.”
Still, Osborne said, given the severity of Ebola’s symptoms, hospitals everywhere are going to have to take a serious look at their protocols to make sure they are what they should be. “This disease is so deadly,” she said. “This is just a disease that we can’t afford to let get out of the room that it’s in.”
Workers need waterproof gowns, not paper gowns, Osborne explained, and someone should observe workers taking off their protective equipment, because that’s often when people contaminate themselves.
Osborn said the health and safety of hospital workers in Santa Fe—including housekeepers, nurses, therapists, lab technicians—is the union’s concern. “We represent the health care worker who’s out there taking care of the patients,” she said. “Certainly their health and safety is a very key working condition. Those who are doing the job and providing the care—as we must—must be protected.”