Published on November 02, 2014

Jacksonville hospitals say they are ready for Ebola

An Ebola outbreak in Jacksonville would offer a challenge, although officials at several area hospitals say they feel prepared to identify, isolate and effectively care for patients who arrive in their emergency rooms or clinics with symptoms that might be caused by the virus.

The officials were responding to an Associated Press story that suggests the American health-care system “is so unprepared and short on resources to deal with the deadly Ebola virus that even small clusters of cases could overwhelm parts of the system.”

An outbreak of Ebola would certainly strain Jacksonville hospitals, said Keith Stein, Baptist Health’s chief medical officer, who noted that a typical flu season “does strain us.”

But Baptist Health’s various hospitals and clinics have plans in place to identify, isolate and appropriately treat people who show symptoms of possible infection with Ebola, he said.

“We’re not waiting for the challenge to come to us,” Stein said. “… I think everybody is preparing very aggressively.”

“We are confident that the plans we have in place at all of our facilities, including our outpatient clinics, will allow us to safely and effectively handle a potential Ebola patient,” said David Meyer, St. Vincent’s HealthCare’s chief strategy and marketing officer.

“Mayo Clinic is prepared to quickly identify, isolate and treat patients suspected of having Ebola virus disease should the need arise,” said Nancy Dawson, vice chairwoman of Hospital Operations at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. “We have ongoing communications and training for our staff to ensure we can care for patients with Ebola, or any infectious disease, safely and appropriately. … Mayo Clinic is actively identifying patients with recent travel to affected regions or with close contact with an Ebola patient and quickly isolating them until Ebola has been ruled out.”

Joseph Sabato, UF Health Jacksonville’s medical director for disaster preparation, said getting ready for Ebola hasn’t been easy. “The biggest issue is training and getting everybody ready to deal with this,” he said. “It’s a huge task and very expensive.”

Still, Sabato said UF Health is ready to deal with someone arriving at its facilities with Ebola-like symptoms. “We have a screening system in place,” he said. “We can identify that person immediately and isolate that person.”

What happens after that will be “a further learning experience,” Sabato said, noting only a handful of hospitals in the United States have ever treated patients infected with Ebola.

Fortunately, while Ebola has resulted in a high mortality rate in Africa, only one of nine patients who has been treated in the U.S. has died, Stein noted.

Stein said his greatest concern is that in Northeast Florida there is not enough coordination between hospitals as they all make their separate preparations. He said a centralized regional body that would coordinate the efforts of the hospitals would probably be more cost effective.

But preparing to deal with “a scary disease” like Ebola is something he and Baptist Health’s chief nursing officer Diane Raines spend a lot of time on, Stein said.

“We think about the safety of our team all the time,” he said. “Patient and provider safety is our focus.”

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413