Healthcare workers across the nation are ill-equipped to handle patients with the Ebola virus, according to reports fromworkers affiliated with the National Nurses Unitednurses union. Not only do many US nurses lack proper protective gear — like sealed gloves, masks, and protective goggles — healthcare workers are not being trained to use these materials in a way that would prevent transmission of the virus, union workers say.
“This situation has been a nightmare,” National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve been told a lot of things wrong. We’ve been lied to. And we know this because the nurses have told us this.”
The attention is currently on Dallas, where critical errors at the hospital where the first patient in the US was found to have Ebola may have contributed to the infection of two healthcare workers with the virus. One of them boarded an aeroplane shortly before showing symptoms.
But what happened in Texas could happen anywhere, nurses say.
Some 85% of nurses say they haven’t been provided with the proper instruction on how to use protective clothing, according to a national survey of 2,300 registered nurses at facilities in 46 states. Another 41% said their hospital did not have plans to properly equip hospital isolation rooms for Ebola patients; 40% said they lacked goggles or face shields.
Instead of the hazmat suits that the nonprofit organisation Doctors Without Borders says it requires for treating Ebola, nurses in hospitals across the country have only generic gowns, gloves, and surgical masks.
Those leave skin at the wrists, neck, and face exposed to the virus. (The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention just recently updated their guidelines for protective gear so that the neck is not exposed.)
These gaps in skin coverage are especially concerning because the virus is transmitted via direct contact, meaning that a worker could become infected if some of the virus (in the saliva, blood, or vomit of an Ebola patient) survived on the worker’s skin and eventually got in his or her eyes or mouth or in a wound. Healthcare workers also haven’t been provided with booties to cover their shoes, allowing virus particles that splash or leak to be carried outside the room, DeMoro said.
CDC director Tom Frieden, who is leading the charge against Ebola in the US, said on a call with reporters on Tuesday that he was aware of the problems. “I’ve been hearing loud and clear from healthcare workers around the country that they’re worried, they don’t feel prepared, they’re distressed,” Frieden said. A Tuesday news release from the CDC said the agency was “setting up a dedicated CDC Response Team that could be on the ground within a few hours at any hospital that receives a confirmed patient with Ebola.”
As of Wednesday, conditions for hospital nurses remained unimproved.
Far from comprehensive Ebola training, most nurses are simply getting emails with links to the CDC website or flyers with basic information about the disease typed in bullet points, registered nurse Yadira Cabrera, who works at a hospital in El Paso, told reporters on Wednesday.
“Hospitals say they are ready, but my experience is they are not,” Cabrera said. “Nurses at my hospital are reporting a very different story. We received a 10-minute training on Ebola.”
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