UF Health ready for Ebola if necessary

By Kumasi Aaron - Reporter/The Morning Show anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - While there have been no cases of Ebola reported in northeast Florida, local hospitals are working to be prepared if that changes.

Several hospitals have plans in place, making sure staff members know what to do to protect themselves and others if a patient arrives with Ebola symptoms.

UF Health Jacksonville said it has been working for on a plan for months and training staff to make sure everyone knows how to execute it. Doctors said it's important to stay vigilant, and they feel confident if a patient arrived there with Ebola symptoms they'd be prepared.

In practicing procedures, an alarm goes off when the patient isolation room at UF Health has been compromised, and nurses and doctors put on gear before treating a patient with symptoms of Ebola.

The plan is enacted before a patient gets to the hospital. It's activated once emergency responders call dispatch to let them know a patient with Ebola symptoms is on the way.

"We have screening policies in place because we want to know if they're brought by EMS that they're a risk so we can protect the facility, protect our patients and begin the right care," said Dr. Joseph Sabato.

If a patient comes to the emergency room on his or her own, that person is stopped there to go through a screening process. The questions are posted on the wall: Do you have these symptoms? Have you traveled to West Africa or cared for someone who has known Ebola?

If a person is determined to be at risk, he or she is moved immediately to the isolation room, where staff are ready.

"The first thing is making sure you have gloves, and there are two sets of gloves, one external and one internal, there is the impervious suit, which it keeps fluids from penetrating through the suit," Sabato said.

Staff also wear a hood, eyewear and shield, all to protect themselves as they put the patient into one of two rooms. Both have negative pressure, meaning air can get in but not out.

"What happens is, air comes under the doorway and it exhausts through a special vent on the ceiling so that way this air supply for this room does not mix with the heating or ventilation systems for this hospital," said Marilyn Middlebrooks, infection control manager.

An alarm goes off if the seal is broken, and a visible ball also lets staff know something is wrong. Nurses begin more screening, armed with the suspect infectious disease emergency response kit, or SIDER.

And as hard as they've worked on the plan, officials at UF Health said they've worked even harder to make sure everyone is ready to execute it.

"We've been meeting for months on this, so it's been a really good experience to be a part of a big team that's being well-prepared for something like Ebola," a nurse named Stephanie said.

UF Health said it has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop its plan, and has been in contact with doctors at Emory University, where the first Ebola patients were treated in the U.S.

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