Sometime during the morning of Aug. 11, a man came to the emergency room at St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor with a fever.
In the previous 21 days, he’d also been to West Africa — which was then, as now, fighting the deadliest outbreak of Ebola virus in modern history.
That day was weeks before a Liberian man arrived at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas with similar symptoms and was released into the community with an active, contagious Ebola infection. That man later became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. His case, and the hospital’s mismanagement of it, has roiled the country and turned the focus of Pierce County’s health systems toward ensuring they don’t make the same mistakes.
But the situation at St. Anthony Hospital in August shows that even before the full-court press of Ebola preparation, the staff there knew what to do.
“It turned out the patient had something else,” said Edie Jeffers, spokeswoman for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which had issued an advisory to local medical providers a week earlier. “There was no public health threat. But we did have someone who was on their toes.”
The following details on the case came from Jeffers and Scott Thompson, spokesman for CHI Franciscan Health, St. Anthony’s parent organization. The emergency department manager on duty that day was out of town Wednesday and not available for an interview, Thompson said. The hospital infection specialist who worked on the case told The News Tribune on Wednesday morning she would check with her supervisor before agreeing to an interview. Thompson later said she did not want to speak publicly.
The man’s age range and ethnicity are considered personal health information protected by federal law, Thompson said. He is not a Pierce County resident, but Thompson said where a person lives also is considered personal health information.
The man arrived at the hospital as a walk-in during the morning, Thompson said.
The patient had a fever and told the emergency staff that he had traveled to West Africa. The emergency department manager immediately called the hospital’s infection control department and put the patient in an isolation room with special air-flow controls.
An infection control staff member called the Health Hepartment. A public health nurse then walked her through the current federal guidelines for managing a patient suspected to have Ebola. That included having medical workers wear protective clothing while treating the patient. The hospital’s infection control staff member then alerted all relevant hospital departments on how to properly handle the patient’s care.
While the Health Department was starting to arrange for an Ebola blood test with the state lab, the hospital’s testing “showed the person was suffering from another condition, not Ebola,” Jeffers said.
What exactly ailed the man is private information, Thompson said, who also could not confirm Wednesday when or from where the patient was discharged.