While the Ebola virus remains far afield, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has been preparing to respond to the disease in the unlikely event that a suspected case reaches Vineyard shores.
On Thursday morning, the hospital conducted an informational meeting, where health workers had opportunities to raise concerns and ask questions about the virus. An estimated 55 people attended the talk, the latest of several trainings that have taken place at the hospital this fall.
The first case of the highly contagious infectious disease was diagnosed in the United States in late September, but there have been no cases in Massachusetts. According to the state Department of Public Health, the possibility of an Ebola case in the commonwealth remains low.
Still, as a precaution, the staff at the Vineyard hospital has undergone specialized training to respond to the virus, conducting periodic drills in the emergency department and boosting supplies of protective equipment.
“You hope it’s never going to happen but you have to be ready, you just have to be ready, and get the protocol straight,” said hospital chief executive officer Timothy Walsh.
Plans in place here mirror other hospitals statewide. The emergency department will use a Massachusetts General Hospital checklist, which assesses the patient’s travel history and possible contact with infected individuals. If a patient meets the criteria on the checklist, the physician would conduct a more intensive evaluation, said chief nurse executive Carol Bardwell.
An isolation room has been designated in the emergency department, where a patient with suspected Ebola symptoms would receive care. The room has an adjoining space where protective equipment worn by staff can be removed and decontaminated, Ms. Bardwell said.
The area has been stocked with the appropriate gear, which includes impervious Hazmat gowns, PAPRs or positive air pressure respirators and face masks.
The hospital began preparing for Ebola in mid August, with members of the emergency committee listening in on conference calls with Partner’s Health Care, the Boston-based hospital consortium that owns the hospital.
The hospital took an inventory of the protective equipment on hand, which was found to be substantial, and added to the supply.
Recent news that a second nurse in Texas had contracted the disease has raised concern further among health care providers.
“The sense of urgency and awareness has increased,” Ms. Bardwell said.
The meeting on Thursday served to assure staff of existing plans and protocols, which she said were in line with standards of optimum care and the experience of healthcare workers who have cared for Ebola patients. “I think people were comfortable when they left,” she said.
Trainings will continue on a regular basis, Ms. Bardwell said.
The hospital is not equipped to treat a suspected case of Ebola, but airlifting a patient with Ebola to Boston also is not an option, Ms. Bardwell said. She said the hospital is still working out an alternate means of transport. In recent weeks, public health agencies and hospitals have been sharing information about the disease via conference calls and electronic communications.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said he planned to listen in on an Ebola preparedness briefing with the Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency on Thursday afternoon. More than 300 people participated in the call, which covered the specifics of the disease and the state’s response so far.
The DPH began monitoring the disease in early August, officials said. They emphasized communication at the local level, and with state agencies, especially the on-call epidemiologist, who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Under state law, boards of health have certain powers in the context of the outbreak of an infectious disease, which include isolation and quarantine powers.
Local boards became more familiar with these directives during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Each town is responsible for implementing its own response to a particular emergency, but the local boards of health would work together in the case of a disease outbreak, Mr. Poole said. “We would draw on all that experience and coordinate our efforts,” he said. Last week, Island health officials met at a regional meeting of the medical reserve corps to conduct a review of the flu clinic which was held in early October.
The clinic followed protocol for a pandemic situation, in which vehicles would be staged at a separate location for crowd control purposes.
Over the course of the day, 475 people received immunizations, a small percentage of the Vineyard’s year-round population.
The highest attendance at a flu clinic was recorded in the mid 2000s, when about 1,700 people were immunized, Mr. Poole said. That number has dwindled over the years due to the increasing availability of the shots at Island pharmacies.
Still, there is precedent for Islandwide traffic control capability, Mr. Poole said. Public safety officials direct large crowds each year at the Oak Bluffs fireworks.
He said boards of health do not have the power to shut down the airport or the Steamship Authority in the event of a major outbreak.