Posted Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Health experts from two area hospitals told the Morris County Freeholders during the Freeholder work session Oct. 22 that their main goals during the recent Ebola outbreak include ensuring the well-being of people coming into their facilities as well as the health of their employees and the public.

Dr. Joel Maslow of Morristown Medical Center and Dr. Donald Allegra, Dr. Alma Ratcliffe and Norma Atienza, RN, of Saint Clare’s Health System said all of their hospitals have enhanced the screening process of people coming in for treatment so as not to miss a potential Ebola patient.

Dr. Allegra, Infectious Disease Consultant at St. Clare’s, said if a person comes in for treatment complaining of fever, muscle aches and nausea, it is important the screening process inquires about the individual’s travel history, since those are also the initial symptoms of Ebola.

Dr. Allegra said his hospital has been preparing for potential Ebola patients for several months, when the outbreak in West Africa began to intensify.  He said since travelers from African nations fly into Newark Liberty and JFK airports, it would not come as a surprise if a person who has been exposed to Ebola came to Saint Clare’s.

All four told the Freeholders their hospitals have placed a greater emphasis on training their staff to protect the health of their employees.

Dr. Ratcliffe, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs at Saint Clare’s, said the hospital has established two teams of nurses who practice day in and day out on the proper management and care of an Ebola patient.

One critical part of that training, she said, is putting on and taking off the protective suits that must be worn when caring for an Ebola patient.  Dr. Ratcliffe said Saint Clare’s has established a “buddy” system, whereby one trained nurse helps another put the protective suit on and carefully take it off.

Saint Clare’s Norma Atienza stated since the guidelines from the Center for Disease Control keep changing to adapt to the fluid Ebola situation, the education of hospital staff is a daily practice.

She said at the end of each day, hospital officials have a teleconference with all of their managers to go over the latest Ebola information that has been received from the CDC and from state health officials.  Managers are then required to share that material with all of their employees, to ensure that everyone at the hospital has the latest information.

Dr. Joel Maslow, Chief of Morristown Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said all of the hospitals in the Atlantic Health System have procedures in place that are aimed at the protection and safe treatment of the patient and the protection of staff and everyone else in the hospital.

He stressed that Ebola is not an airborne disease, with the only known route of infection being by coming in direct contact with bodily fluids.

While clinical trials are being run on Ebola treatments and vaccines, Dr. Maslow said to date, none have been approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

Scott DiGiralomo, Director of the Morris County Department of Law and Public Safety, and Jeffrey Paul, Morris County Emergency Management Director, told the Freeholders they have been in close contact with EMS, first aid squads, police departments and other first responders in the Countydeveloping a protocol for treating and transporting possible Ebola patients.