No Ebola In Florida But Area Hospitals Are Ready

Oct 15, 2014

In light of reports of the handful of Ebola cases elsewhere in the US, healthcare workers in Florida and Pensacola are making their own preparations just in case. However, there have been no Ebola cases here, or in the rest of Florida.

Suspected Ebola cases reported in Miami and Jacksonville this week turned out to be something else. Governor Rick Scott last week asked hospitals across Florida – large and small -- to require that their healthcare professionals undergo safety training to guard against Ebola measure.

“This is just a ‘make sure what everybody’s doing, make sure we’re coordinating activities’” said Scott. “But I can tell you that, for everyone who lives in our state, for all of our visitors, we’re ready, we will be prepared, and I hope we never have a case.”

Scott is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to hold a conference call with Florida hospitals in the next 48 hours, to discuss the best training and personal protective equipment protocols. Dr. Michael Oleksek at Baptist Health Care says they’ve met with local emergency management officials, and emergency room and infection control staff on procedures.

Oleksek says they’re not expecting a great number of Ebola patients, beyond perhaps one or two, if that many. He adds that all Pensacola-area hospitals are well-equipped to handle patients with communicable diseases.

“All of the hospitals in Pensacola have seen patients, for example, with active tuberculosis, malaria, and things like that. We see those sporadically,” said Oleksek. “So this is not foreign to us in terms of dealing with communicable diseases. The key is going to be recognizing it initially, and then instituting the appropriate protocol.”

Both Baptist Health Care and Sacred Heart Health System are developing plans to isolate any Ebola patient brought to their doors. Dr. Tim Rak – who leads Sacred Heart’s Emergency Department – says they formed a group of hospital officials right after the first case in Dallas was reported.

Calls to West Florida Hospital seeking an interview on its preparations were not returned.

While Ebola is not considered an airborne pathogen, Rak says they would err on the side of caution and place patients in rooms where the air flow is out through a filter – similar to how tuberculosis patients are treated.

“This is sort of the same feeling that we had when HIV first came around,” said Rak. “There were a lot of misperceptions about it, and the community didn’t have a good grasp on it. So there’s a little bit of hysteria, and I tell people you’re more apt to be hit by lightning right now, than you are to get Ebola.”

A vital part of battling any Ebola that may come to this area, says Rak, is communication among the various – and usually very competitive – healthcare firms. But what Drs. Tim Rak and Michael Oleksek hope local residents realize and remember, is that the chance of getting Ebola is miniscule. And both emphasize that this time of year, the odds are better of someone contracting the flu. 

As far as the media coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the few cases in North America, Oleksek says it’s been a mixed blessing.

“In terms of keeping people aware that it’s potentially out there, what we don’t want to do is start a frenzy,” said Oleksek, “Health care facilities need to be prepared. We are in the United States much different than Africa in our ability to isolate and identify quicker. That gives us a tremendous advantage.”

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health is re-directing more than $1.2 million in state funds to help with advanced Ebola preparation. Surgeon General John Armstrong says they’re also working to redirect over $7 million in federal grant funding to Ebola preparedness. Of the latter almost $6 million requires federal approval.