Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Local hospitals, agencies preparing for possibility of Ebola

Projects Editor

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Plains Regional Medical Center in Clovis is prepared for the remote chance a case of the Ebola virus is diagnosed in eastern New Mexico, according to the chief of infection control for Presbyterian Health Systems.

Dr. David Stryker said all of Presbyterian’s hospitals, including PRMC, have incident command systems in place to deal with Ebola. He said meetings are held daily to convey new or changing information from state and federal health agencies. All hospitals are equipped with personal protective equipment — gowns, masks, etc. — that meet requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Stryker said.

Stryker joined spokespersons for the state Department of Health and the New Mexico Nurses Association in assessing the growing concern about Ebola as an evolving dynamic driven by new guidelines for handling Ebola from the CDC.

“Absolutely,” said Stryker. “What we were planning on doing last week has already changed this week.”

Foremost for Stryker and the other agencies is protecting health care workers and the community in the event the highly contagious Ebola is diagnosed. It’s being accomplished by various federal and state health care agencies and associations sharing information, said Deborah Walker, executive director of the state nurses association.

“Our goal,” said Walker, “is that we’re getting out the most accurate and timely information possible. As we have information available from American Nurses Association as well as the CDC and state health officials ... we’re sending that to our nurses.”

Walker said most hospitals conducted daily drills for emergency preparedness before Ebola was diagnosed Sept. 30 for the first time in the U.S. in a patient at a Dallas hospital, Thomas Duncan of Liberia.

Duncan died last week and one of those who cared for him, Dallas nurse Nina Pham, has since tested positive for the virus, which is spread through bodily fluids.

“Obviously,” Walker said, “this takes it to new levels.”

New Mexico Department of Health spokesman David Morgan said his agency is offering webinars and enhanced training for health care workers. He also said the state agency has placed an emphasis on obtaining a travel history of all patients, whether showing symptoms or not.

Patients are being asked to account for their travel within the last 30 days, Morgan said. The department is following CDC guidelines and distributing all such information to health care workers across the state.

Stryker said establishing a patient’s travel history is a worthwhile endeavor at any facility, and not just for patients who have traveled in West Africa. He said most patients returning from West Africa with a fever are usually diagnosed with malaria.

As for Ebola, “I think it’s a problem,” said Stryker. “But in the U.S. it seems there is a lot more news than there is (Ebola) disease. Frankly, I would be more worried about flu.”