With the scare of an Ebola pandemic sweeping the world, Yavapai Regional Medical Center's chief medical officer Joseph Goldberger said the chances of the deadly virus reaching Prescott are highly unlikely, but, nevertheless, the hospital is taking immediate steps to handle a case that might occur.
"We've had two strategies going on," in addition to apprising hospital staff of the national Centers for Disease Control's material on the topic, he said.
And, he said, "We are developing a scenario-based program with various procedures and protocols, based on the presentation" of the patient who comes to the hospital's ER with flu-like symptoms.
This patient would be triaged with a questionnaire, asking:
If he or she has traveled in the past three weeks to West African countries, such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone or other countries where the virus exists.
If he or she has had close contact with somebody who had recently traveled to West Africa and was ill.
If he or she had had close contact with bats, rodents or primates from West Africa.
Flu-like symptoms include a rash, cough, vomiting or diarrhea or fever.
If anyone comes to the ER with flu-like symptoms and answers "yes" to any of the questions on the triage form, the hospital will implement its protocols immediately and move the patient into an isolation room in the ER.
If a patient meets the criteria set by CDC and is identified as a risk, the hospital would immediately let the county health department know it has a patient of concern.
The hospital would then work with the county's health department, which works with the state health department, where blood work would go for testing.
If a patient tested positive for Ebola, the CDC is expected to respond immediately, if needed, Goldberger said.
To protect its staff, Goldberger said the hospital is "following CDC guidelines to the letter."
Robbie Nicol, YRMC's executive director of community outreach and philanthropy, said the hospital is prepared with hoods, protective suits with impermeable coverings, surgical head coverings, shoe covers, special masks, face shields and double gloves. The hospital is also ordering special hoods that come down to one's shoulders to cover any gaps the separate coverings might leave.
Goldberger said the staff will have training in how to put on all the equipment and will drill on the hospital's strategies, should a patient with Ebola come to the hospital for care.
"We are taking the steps necessary to take care of our patients, our staff and the community at large," Goldberger said.
But, at the same time he wants the community to remember that even though the likelihood of an Ebola case in Prescott is very small, the hospital is taking the current situation very seriously.
"It's a very fluid situation," Goldberger said, "and we are prepared to make adjustments to our policies and procedures on national recommendations."
Cases of seasonal flu are inevitable, so Goldberger urged residents to get their flu shots and take all the necessary precautions to avoid getting sick, including the frequent washing of hands.