Healthcare services taking precautions, but Ebola risk is minimal, officials say

Rockland County confirms one Rockland resident had been under observation following travels to Liberia 

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

unnamedNYACK – County health officials seem confident that Rockland is at low risk of an Ebola scare, but remain vigilant in case the worst happens.

In a county press release, cooperation between hospitals and the state Center for Disease Control and new preventative measures against the virus were highlighted. The new procedures aim primarily to educate police, emergency medical personnel and other first responders on the ins-and-outs of handling potential and known cases of Ebola.

“Since September, we have been working cooperatively with the CDC, the state Department of Health, our local hospitals and emergency responders to ensure that our level of preparedness remains at the highest level,” County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said.

The procedures include questions 911 operators can use to screen for potential cases, trained Ebola response teams organized by the Department of Health, dedicated ambulances and information and instructions for police and medical personnel countywide.

“We are educating our first responders and readying equipment,” Dr. Ruppert added. “In the meantime, we encourage everyone to go about living their daily lives and take the same kind of precautions you would use to prevent catching any type of illness.”

The efforts have not been for naught. The Health Department confirmed an unidentified Rockland resident with a low-risk exposure to the virus in Liberia was recently released after spending 21 days in isolation. The patient showed no signs or symptoms of Ebola.

Caution is high, but worries appear to be low. Nyack Hospital Medical Director confirmed the risk of an outbreak anywhere in the U.S. was minimal, arguing that other infectious diseases such as influenza and enterovirus D-68, were far easier to contract and more likely to do serious harm.

“You’re much more likely to get the flu and to get a serious complication of the flu than you are to get Ebola,” Nyack Hospital Medical Director Dr. Michael Rader said at a public information session held at the healthcare center on Wednesday.

Rader also stressed that the U.S. healthcare system is vastly superior to those in hard-hit African nations, where containment, sanitation and body disposal lack the rigor of American healthcare.

Dr. Sashin Shah, who heads Nyack’s emergency department, called the Ebola epidemic in Africa and cases in the United States “anxiety-provoking,” but similarly argued medical personnel’s worries have been mitigated by knowledge, training and safety procedures, particularly the response team established after the first American cases came to light.

Shah emphasized that the first tactic for suspected cases remains isolation, followed by protection to healthcare workers and care for the patient. At the same time, he expressed confidence that the infection is so difficult to contract that healthcare workers were at a distinct advantage.

“Ebola, at the end of the day, is difficult to contract, and that is good for us,” Shah said.

In spite of relatively low risks, Nyack has still spent considerable time and funds to upgrade its response to infectious disease. Rader stated the hospital was could spend anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 for a single case, an sum spent largely on items such as diagnostics, specialized bio-hazard suits and isolation units.

Rader added that though the costs were high, state healthcare officials seemed pleased with the new procedures.

“I think we’re ready,” Rader said. “We hope we will never see this, we hope we will never have to use any of these things, but we’re prepared if it happens.”

Rather than remain in Nyack, any confirmed ebola patient would be transferred to one of eight specially-designated treatment centers.

Though risks were acknowledged to be low, residents at the Nyack event were still advised to prevent any kind of infection by taking care of themselves, getting all recommended immunizations and diagnostic tests, and maintaining basic hygiene. Rockland residents are also advised to stay vigilant in the unlikely event they come across a high-risk case of an individual who had close contact with an individual known or believed to have an infectious disease.