As nurses raised alarms that they are untrained and ill equipped to handle cases of Ebola virus, Massachusetts hospital officials said Thursday that the health crisis emerging from West Africa demands a unique response.
At a Public Health Committee hearing, Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Preparedness Chief Dr. Paul Biddinger said handling cases of Ebola is "fundamentally different" than regular medical care, and suggested hospitals should create a "highly trained expert cadre" to handle Ebola rather than attempting to train all staff equally.
Massachusetts has not had a confirmed case of the deadly disease, though there have been suspect cases and two nurses at a Texas hospital have been infected with the disease. Ebola is spread from the fluids of a person who is infected and symptomatic.
Massachusetts Nurses Association President Donna Kelly Williams said the training and equipment at Massachusetts hospitals is "inconsistent," and nurses have said they have been provided with "flimsy" garments that Williams said would not adequately protect them against infection.
"It varies from hospital to hospital," Williams told the News Service. A nurse at Cambridge Hospital, Williams said nurses have "great concern" and want the "highest standard" of equipment and regular training.
Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said last weekend's Ebola scare in his town left him with the understanding that there should be more clear protocols about how to handle a similar situation.
"We do need a more comprehensive plan, and we need a level of communication with the state that is going to allow us to be in a better position," Sullivan told committee members.
Sullivan said fact sheets about Ebola should be distributed "in an aggressive manner," and said, "We need better information on appropriate decontamination procedures."
Sullivan said on Sunday afternoon a man who had come from Liberia went to Harvard Vanguard complaining of a headache, which initiated a public safety response and a media response.
Officials towed the man's SUV, Sullivan said, and stationed a police officer to guard it, out of concern it could be "some kind of target."
Sullivan said there were many individual conversations with state Department of Public Health officials and said, "On site, it was a calm scene, but in terms of communication, cell phones created a lot of static noise."
Sullivan said there was concern in town about the incident, where the person had been and whether the patient had any children in local schools. Sullivan said patient confidentiality laws made it complicated to quell public fears, and said, "The criteria for actual testing needs to be clearer."
Sullivan said the incident in Braintree was the "first public case if you will," and said it would be important to develop municipal protocols. "I think our municipal response was responsible," said Sullivan, who said Gov. Deval Patrick called him on Monday morning.
Officials determined the patient did not have Ebola on Monday evening, Sullivan said.