Refining their battle plan against the dreaded Ebola virus, state authorities on Friday officially designated five University of California hospital systems – including UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento – as priority health care facilities for the treatment of officially diagnosed and confirmed Ebola cases.
The designation singles out UC medical facilities as the state’s best-equipped to treat Ebola-infected patients while, at the same time, ensuring the safety of health care workers and the safe disposal of hazardous medical waste.
In making the announcement, California Public Health Department officials emphasized that there are no known cases of Ebola in the state.
Nevertheless, rising public concern over California’s readiness had health officials scrambling to counteract a steady drumbeat of complaints by nurse labor leaders that the state’s hospitals are not prepared to fight the deadly virus.
Identifying top-notch hospitals where patients will be sent for care once their diagnoses are confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may help calm public anxiety stoked by the nurses’ messaging.
Besides the Sacramento campus, the other UC hospitals named Friday are in San Francisco and in Southern California – Los Angeles, Irvine and San Diego.
California Hospital Association spokeswoman Jan Emerson Shea said discussions are continuing with select other hospitals, so the priority list may end up expanding. However unlikely a widespread outbreak may be in California, the core five UC hospitals tapped Friday may need other facilities to back them up, Shea said.
The designation of the UC facilities isn’t meant to reflect poorly on other hospitals, she said.
“Even the small, rural hospitals are prepared to properly screen and isolate potential Ebola cases,” she said. “But this is an acknowledgment that not every hospital in the state is going to have the specialty expertise needed to treat the confirmed cases,” Shea said.
Carol Robinson is UC Davis’ chief nursing officer at the Sacramento medical center, and is privy to what’s been discussed in planning meetings among the Governor’s Office, the hospital association and nursing leaders.
“It’s become apparent in meetings that the five UC hospitals are prepared to safely handle any Ebola cases confirmed by the CDC,” Robinson said.
Readiness at UC Davis Medical Center, for example, exceeds even the new, stricter controls the CDC distributed this week to guarantee health care worker safety, she said.
While other hospitals may still be trying to acquire the proper personal protective equipment needed for nurses and front-line staff, UC Davis has reportedly been steps ahead of even the CDC’s guidelines, Robinson said.
“Since September, we’ve been ahead of emergency response centers at Emory University and in Nebraska,” she said. “There’s lots of different manufacturers of the equipment and we were able to find and select the best material that’s impervious,” or fluid-proof, she said. The Ebola virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids.
“When you are sent an officially confirmed and diagnosed case of Ebola virus, that’s when your staff has to be absolutely perfectly ready,” she said.
UC Davis has been offering training sessions every 90 minutes for staff members willing to step up and join the hospital’s dedicated Ebola response team.
Robinson has been keeping close track of the training: UC Davis has logged exactly 813 hours of staff instruction so far. The number of classes held to date? Precisely 310 sessions, she said.
The process of donning and removing the protective equipment shielding every inch of skin from exposure to an Ebola patient’s bodily fluids “is a very complex process that’s constantly being practiced,” she said.
One of the key requirements for securing an Ebola treatment center designation is having a foolproof plan for disposing of hazardous waste, including anything that may have come into contact with contaminated fluids.
On its website, the CDC offers extensive and detailed guidance that hospital authorities “should review closely and check regularly, including appropriate infection control practices for handling and packaging” medical waste, public health officials said.
They urge each facility to develop its own site-specific protocols for safe handling of Ebola-related medical waste. Such waste includes sheets, curtains, pillows and other linens. If no on-site incineration facility is available, the state guidelines say: “California sends its incinerable waste to Alabama, Maryland, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Texas.”
The fine-tuned protocols apply to hospitals and even airports that may be impacted by Ebola’s global spread, which the World Health Organization deemed the worst-ever.
Proper safety controls were tightened by the CDC after a Dallas hospital botched its handling earlier this month of a sickened Liberian man, the first Ebola patient to die on U.S. soil.
Ron Chapman is the director of the state Department of Public Health, California’s version of the CDC. Chapman said his department came to designate the UC medical centers as the state’s go-to facilities after examining their capacity to respond to public emergencies.
“All of the UC medical centers specialize in complex care and operate as staff level-one trauma centers,” Chapman said. “The administration will support these hospitals in meeting the public health need in California.”
Chapman also sent a stern message to other hospitals in the state: “All hospitals and medical providers need to redouble preparedness efforts to ensure that they can effectively assess Ebola risk in their patients, while ensuring workplace safety.”
Call The Bee’s Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.