October 21, 2014

Tompkins County Prepares for Ebola Threat

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Officials say Tompkins County is preparing itself to face Ebola, despite the low risk the deadly virus faces to the community.

During a panel held Tuesday, representatives from the Tompkins County Health Department, Cayuga Medical Center and the University said they are looking into strengthening key health measures to prepare for a potential incident.

“A coalition of health care, academic and first responders is actively developing strategies for to respond in the event of a confirmed case of Ebola in Tompkins County,” said Frank Kruppa, public health director of the Tompkins County Health Department. “This coalition has been engaged in collaborative planning since August.”

According to Kruppa, Cayuga Medical Center already has protocols for handling communicable diseases, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently intensified Ebola guidelines may require the hospital to adopt additional measures.

The new guidelines encourage hospitals to have three sub-zones within all disease isolation areas — a green, yellow and red room — with the rooms’ codenames correlating directly with the potential of Ebola contamination, according to Dr. David Evelyn, vice president of medical affairs at Cayuga Medical Center.

According to Evelyn, a green room is a safe place for medical practitioners to put on protective gear, the yellow room is a buffer between the doctor’s area and contaminated space and the red room houses the infected patient. He added some of the CDC’s other suggestions include more intensive personal protective equipment for hospital workers and toilets in patient isolation rooms.

Cayuga Medical Center already has isolation areas in its emergency room and intensive care unit, but neither are correctly equipped for treating patients with Ebola, according to Evelyn. Areas in the ICU are intended for common diseases, such as influenza, and areas in the ER were not designed with anti-rooms or in-room patient toilets.

Hospital officials say they are currently researching various ways to accommodate the CDC’s enhanced guidelines and update protocols as recommendations are released.

“The key is continuous monitoring of what is coming out of the CDC and New York State Health Department to be on top of compliance,” said John Rudd, president and chief executive officer of Cayuga Medical Center.

The hospital has already joined other medical centers across New York in a drill for Ebola readiness, according to Rudd. One of these drills took place recently when an individual entered Cayuga Medical Center’s emergency room and identified themselves as having recently travelled to Liberia. Nurses and receptionists — who were not aware the scenario was a drill — successfully followed protocol and isolated the patient within five minutes, he said.

Cornell has also implemented preventative measures against Ebola by placing travel restrictions on University-related travel to some West African countries to all students, faculty and staff.

According to Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert, associate vice president for campus health and director of Gannett Health Services, if individuals suspect they may have contracted the virus they should call Cayuga Medical Center before checking themselves into the facility.

“[Over the phone], we can coordinate [with patients] to figure out what the best place is to receive the best care,” Corson-Rikert said. “We might arrange travel to Syracuse or maybe an emergency health department for testing.”

Although health officials say there is a low risk of Ebola coming to Tompkins County, residents have been expressing their concern and confusion to the health department.

“We’ve received calls from people who are confused about scary media messages and don’t know how to compare that to other risks,” said Sigrid Connors, director of patient services at the Tompkins County Health Department. “We need to teach people how to put risk in perspective.”

No cases of Ebola have been confirmed in the local area or the state of New York, according to a Tompkins County Health Department press release.