Highland Hospital Ebola response well-practiced

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 17, 2014

While the ongoing Ebola epidemic remains a distant problem and has yet to threaten Pearl River County, the staff and administration of Highland Hospital are making certain they are prepared for anything.
Hospital Administrator Mark Stockstill says Highland had an infectious disease emergency procedure well before the current Ebola outbreak began, but added that the plan has been reviewed and practiced since the epidemic became widespread.
“This has been a long-standing plan that’s been adjusted in response to Ebola,” said Stockstill. “We’ve been on the phone with the CDC and the Mississippi State Department of Health on an almost daily basis.”
The initial step is to screen the patients. According to the Center for Disease Control, the first symptoms of Ebola are very similar to the symptoms exhibited by the flu and a number of other illnesses. In order to properly screen patients and give proper care, Director of Clinical Quality Stephanie Lopez explained the questionnaire that Highland is now assigning to every patient who signs into registration.
“Does the patient have any known exposure, have they done any recent travelling, and if so, where have they gone?” Lopez said.
Lopez explained that if a patient answers “no” to those three questions, then the staff feels comfortable treating them as a regular emergency room patient. Answering “yes” would set the emergency infection procedures the hospital staff has prepared into action.
“If they answered “yes” to those questions, the patient will be provided with a mask and asked to step outside the building,” Lopez said. “A nurse will meet them outside with a mask and gloves and maintain a comfortable distance while leading the patient to the decontamination room.”
Highland Hospital has an outside entrance to their decontamination room, which prevents the possibly infected patient from interacting with other patients or unprotected staff in the waiting areas.
Upon leaving the tour of the decontamination room, Director of Emergency Services Robin Montalbano noted a pile of crumpled facemasks, gloves, masks and protective hospital gear.
“You can see where they’ve been practicing,” Montalbano said.
After leaving the decontamination room, the patient would enter a negative pressure isolation room, where they would remain for a phone interview of the patient’s full medical history. A physician will assess the patient’s level of risk before moving any further, said Lopez.
The hospital heavily restricts and monitors who can go in and out of the isolation room. A complete blood count, urinalysis, flu test and a malaria tests must be performed on the patient according to guidelines of the Center for Disease Control. The State Department notifies the CDC with the test results and the organization responds accordingly from there.
Stockstill is confident that his staff has the tools and the knowledge to be effective in the unlikely event that Ebola gets any closer to Picayune. He added that exposure to infectious illness was not a new concept for the hospital.
“We’ve been preparing for pandemic flu for years,” Stockstill said in regards to the hospital’s thorough preparation. “Our mantra is to pray for the best but prepare for the worst,” he said.

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