Tacoma-area nurses, in survey, express worry about Ebola preparedness

A statewide survey of nurses continued Tuesday to reflect anxiety about Ebola preparedness, and data from Pierce County is no exception.

Responses to the Washington State Nurses Association’s survey have increased rapidly since Sunday, said Heather Stephen-Selby, an assistant director who works directly with nurses. As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the WSNA had received more than 600 responses.

“This situation is evolving hourly,” she said.

Of those 600 responses, Stephen-Selby could identify at least 100 from Tacoma-area hospitals. Not all of the 600 identified where they worked, and not everyone answered all the questions.

The Tacoma-area responses tracked the state’s. About 75 percent of local respondents said their hospital didn’t have an Ebola plan, or they didn’t know of one. About 84 percent said they didn’t feel prepared to treat an Ebola-infected person.

Not just nurses are concerned. Andrea Ramiréz, a housekeeper at St. Joseph Medical Center, said Tuesday that when she clocks in to work, she gets an electronic notice that CHI Franciscan Health, St. Joseph’s parent company, is ready to handle Ebola. But she’s worried she hasn’t received specific training yet.

“We’ve trained for other infectious diseases like tuberculosis, but Ebola is making us scared,” she said in a phone interview arranged through her union, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. Ramiréz said she expects to learn more details about the hospital’s plan on Wednesday (Oct. 15).

Medical leaders from MultiCare Health Systems and Franciscan outlined details of their preparation, which were reported Tuesday in The News Tribune.

Stephen-Selby said Pierce County was doing well, relative to other hospital systems statewide. It benefits from having relatively few hospitals, she said. For example, King County has 13 hospitals planning individual responses.

But MultiCare has already planned to treat anyone infected with Ebola in just three of its facilities: Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s Center, and Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup. Any potentially infected person who arrives at any part of MultiCare’s system would then be transferred to one of those three facilities.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department also is quite strong. “Pierce County has not suffered some of the cuts other health departments in the state have,” Stephen-Selby said.

She reiterated that detection and early isolation is vital, and every medical professional who first sees a patient can do it. The WSNA survey indicated that 80 percent of the Tacoma-area respondents said they had received a screening checklist.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference call Tuesday for about 5,600 healthcare professionals across the country, calling it the largest call they’ve ever had, Stephen-Selby said.

Infectious disease experts delivered a clear message: “Every facility can screen and manage patients and then make the best decision on behalf of staff and patients to send the patient to a prepared facility,” Stephen-Selby said. “They don’t have to admit them. Screen them, isolate them, and work with experts in their response.”