Posted on October 14, 2014

The 3 Basic Lessons All Healthcare Facilities Can Learn from the Ebola Virus

While most healthcare facilities do not have to care for a patient with Ebola at this time, we can all learn something from the recent cases. A few things actually.

Some of the issues that have come up recently while managing patients and patient waste infected with the Ebola virus has taught us a lot about our ability to manage dangerous, infectious waste safely. So, what can your facility learn from the recent Ebola cases?

1. Education and Training are Key

According to a recent survey by National Nurses United, the largest professional association of registered nurses in the United States, “three out of four nurses say their healthcare facility hasn’t provided sufficient education for them on Ebola.”

The survey went on to say that “76 percent said their hospital still hadn’t communicated to them an official policy on admitting potential patients with Ebola.” In addition, a startling 85 percent said their hospital “hadn’t provided educational training sessions on Ebola in which nurses could interact and ask questions.” Read more about the survey on NBC News.

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Other nurses groups have come forward reminding us that that infection prevention for any contagious disease is standard education in nursing. However, Ebola being classified as Category A waste because of its potentially fatal properties, makes it a bit more daunting.

SO what can we learn from all from all of this? Education and training are key. We need to take steps to train our staff on safe infection prevention before the need arises. OSHA bloodborne pathogens training, which is required, is of course a good place to start. Adding periodic inservices and time for question and answer sessions is also a good idea.

2. Improper Infectious Waste Management Can Mean Life or Death

We need to improve our focus on personal protection and waste management. While doctors and nurses have a responsibility to care for sick patients, the facility in which they work has a responsibility to keep the risk for them as low as possible. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is certainly part of this. In addition to simply having the proper PPE, having detailed procedures for degowning, which can be very high-risk, is vital. Once PPE are removed they will need to be properly disposed of. Making sure you have a clear contract with a licensed and insured medical waste disposal company is equally important. Getting these contaminated materials decontaminated as quickly and safely as possible will help keep everyone safe.

So what can we learn from this? Simply watching a training video or completing a quiz is not enough. Practicing wearing and removing PPE with meticulous care is necessary to prevent exposure to any infectious substances. In addition, build up your relationship with your medical waste disposal company. Ask them questions you may have and make sure you know exactly what to do should you need to add additional service as was the case with Emory University Hospital when they cared for patients with Ebola. Preventing the spread of disease is health care workers’ responsibility.

3. Keeping Up to Date with Information is Vital

The CDC is constantly releasing guidelines and regulation updates on their website. In fact, when it comes to disposing of Category A infectious waste, such as Ebola waste, there is still no agreed upon regulation from both the CDC and the DOT. This means brand new information has yet to be released. It is important that we stay informed with the facts to both be prepared and to also avoid spreading false facts or rumors which can make things worse. Educating your staff with what you learn, as you learn it, will help them as well. Allow them to ask questions and encourage them to pay attention to information updates from trusted sources. Consider having a “recent news” whiteboard in your office or break room where you can post important updates.

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Tell us what you’ve learned from the recent cases of Ebola in the United States in the comments section below.