Ludington hospital prepared to handle Ebola patients.

October 27, 2014
Clockwise from left: Summerfeldt, Kokx, Morrill, Johnson.

Clockwise from left: Summerfeldt, Kokx, Morrill, Johnson.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief. 

LUDINGTON — The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has caused concern in the United States. While there has only been one fatality from the disease during the epidemic, hospitals are preparing for possible patients. Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital is no exception. I met with members of the hospital’s medical staff this afternoon to discuss what the hospital is doing to prepare for a potential patient.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ebola is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with a strain of Ebola virus. The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting multiple countries in West Africa. The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the U.S. is very low. Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood and body fluids of a person already showing symptoms of Ebola. Ebola is not spread through the air, water, food, or mosquitoes.

Ruth Summerfeldt, clinical director of emergency care, said procedures have changed slightly in the emergency department, starting with triage. “When a patient comes in we send a nurse out to the waiting area to ask a series of questions in relation to Ebola,” Summerfeldt said. “If the patient screens positive, they will go back to the negative pressure room.” The negative pressure room does not recycle air back into the building. The room is self sustaining, including bathroom facilities. Select medical staff will then put on protective clothing and prepare the patient for transport to Spectrum Health downtown Grand Rapids campuses, Butterworth for adults and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for minors.

Lisa Morrill, director of medical/surgical nursing, said Michigan is currently working out a contract with a specific ambulance service for that transportation, allowing its staff to have more specialized training. In addition, Ludington hospital personnel are receiving advanced training in caring for potential Ebola patients.

“Our goal is to minimize the amount of exposure to hospital staff,” said Helen Johnson, vice president of nursing. “Once the patient is in Grand Rapids, there also would be limited personnel working with them. Staff members have volunteered to receive specialized training and those particular personnel would spend their time with the patient. The patient rooms would also be video monitored to allow for more observation of medical staff that doesn’t have direct contact.”

Could an Ebola patient show up at Ludington’s hospital?

“It is possible,” said Dr. William Kokx, emergency department medical director. “The likelihood is quite low. I would think we have to consider people from the area who are traveling overseas and people from Africa who may be traveling to this area.”

Morrill said while the epidemic is serious in Africa, illnesses like influenza are actually more of a community health threat to this area than Ebola. It doesn’t mean the disease shouldn’t be taken serious, however.

“Last year there were 36,000 people who died of influenza in the United States, compared to 4,000 who have died in Africa from Ebola in the last eight months,” Morrill said.

“I don’t think there is a reason for people to panic,” Kokx said.

Taking precautions such as hand washing will go a long way to prevent most communicable diseases, Morrill said.

“We are doing everything we can to protect our community and to protect our staff,” Johnson said. “If somebody shows up, they will be taken care of to the best of our abilities in the short time that they will be in this hospital.”

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