Starting tomorrow, you will notice new signs posted at Eugene Pediatric Associates for anyone with a fever who has traveled outside the country in the past 21 days. The signs are a proactive step to address concerns about the Ebola virus.
Let me say, I am eternally grateful and impressed by the efforts of Dr. Craig Spencer, the physician who recently returned to NYC from West Africa, infected with Ebola virus and now is fighting for his life in a hospital. His career has been largely dedicated to working in the third world, helping those who require his expertise. My heart goes out to him and to his loved ones for a full and speedy recovery.
That Dr. Spencer could return to his hometown unknowingly carrying Ebola, and later fall sick, underscores the fact that any city in the world could face a similar scenario. Not that long ago, The Register-Guard ran a front-page story about a local international aid worker who had returned home to our community. Gladly, she was healthy. And to her, as well, go my personal thanks for all her work abroad.
Since the Dallas and NYC Ebola patients, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put into place significant efforts to track those people returning to this country from high-risk parts of the world. Locally, both Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend and McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center have held “disaster drills” in their emergency rooms, with nurses and other staff practicing the tedious and methodical process of donning Personal Protective Equipment (Hazmat suits) needed to care for patients with Ebola.
While preparedness is progressing at hospitals and recommendations are readily available for large inpatient medical centers, little has been said about individual outpatient clinic readiness.
Certainly, Eugene Pediatrics is a place where many patients present with fever, vomiting and diarrhea. And just like in Dallas, they wouldn’t arrive with a neon sign over their head indicating they may be sick with a virus that kills the majority of patients who are infected by it. As it stands at our clinic and others like ours, we have no Personal Protective Equipment, no training in its use, and no screening of patients before they enter our building.
To determine the best way to protect our patients and staff, and to direct those in need to the best place for care, I have spoken to the Chief Medical Officer at RiverBend, as well as members of Lane County Public Health.
The advice I was given was conflicting. Those within the Public Health department warned me not to post signs that might cause panic, and instead to work on decreasing time in my waiting room. In contrast, PeaceHealth officials told me they are posting signage of their own, asking patients who’ve recently traveled to identify themselves.
It was my decision to post signs that ask patients who have traveled outside the U.S. in the past 21 days AND have a fever to stop, return to their vehicle, and call us. Our triage nurses will talk to them immediately, determine where they’ve traveled, discuss their symptoms, then direct them to an emergency room equipped to care for them, if appropriate.
Is the risk of anyone in Eugene-Springfield contracting Ebola small? Definitely. Is the risk zero? No. Do we have a cure or vaccine to prevent Ebola? Not yet. So for now, this is my studied and thoughtful effort to protect and care for our community.
Please join me in sending funds to those agencies that are working around the clock to help Ebola victims and to find a cure.