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Ebola preparations ratcheted up at Md. facilities

Health care providers in Maryland have ratcheted up their screening protocols and other preparations for Ebola, saying they’re doing everything they can to be on the lookout for potential cases and are confident those preparations are adequate.

“Emergency preparedness is embedded in every hospital in the United States,” said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.

Hospitals and other health care facilities all follow detailed, step-by-step protocols when dealing with a virus like Ebola. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide health care facilities with customized checklists tailored to specific infections — be it Ebola or the flu.

Coyle said hospitals are reviewing those protocols and making sure they’re prepared to carry them out, such as by taking inventory of personal protective gear, like gloves and face respirators.

“The most important thing right now that hospitals are doing is asking questions, thinking of potential challenges so we can resolve them in advance, before someone presents with a suspected case of Ebola,” Coyle said.

Hospitals aren’t the only ones putting extra precautions in place. Urgent care centers, physician practices and other facilities are also familiarizing themselves with the response plan prescribed by the CDC.

That effort paid off for the patient who showed up at a Righttime Medical Care urgent care clinic on Wednesday displaying symptoms of the virus.

According to Righttime CEO Dr. Robert Graw, medical personnel at the clinic inquired about the patient’s recent travel history, identified several tell-tale symptoms and decided to immediately transfer the patient to a local hospital.

Graw said he started working with county health departments, local hospitals and professionals at the National Institutes of Health a few weeks ago to finalize a plan for how the 13 clinics in Maryland would handle a suspected Ebola case.

Graw declined to share which hospital admitted the patient.

“But [that incident] shows we are not only prepared, we are performing,” he said.

Some providers questioned, however, whether all facilities would be ready to handle a large-scale outbreak, in the extremely unlikely event that the virus became an epidemic on U.S. soil.

To be clear, no one thinks an outbreak in the U.S. is likely. The risk, at least currently, is extremely low, said Dr. Tyler Cymet, president of MedChi, the state’s doctors association, and an emergency medicine physician at Prince George’s Hospital Center.

“I’m confident that the system in place would be adequate if there was a small number of people coming in who needed to be quarantined or triaged for Ebola,” Cymet said, adding that he and other hospital personnel have been instructed how to respond.

“But if a larger number of suspected cases came in, we would have to change the system,” he continued. “I think we’re ready for a trickle. I don’t know if we’re ready for more than that, but I also don’t know if we need to be ready yet.”

As far as implementing more stringent screening policies, some health care providers said there’s not much more they could do to screen incoming patients for the deadly virus beyond the standardized infection control practices they’ve adopted.

“Airports are now talking about taking people’s temperatures — we do that every day anyway,” Graw said. “So there’s not much more screening you could do other than taking a good travel history, recording their symptoms, which we’ve always done anyway.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.