Same Problems, Different Virus

October 20, 2014

Evelyn McKnight and Lauren Lollini

Lauren Lollini is a patient safety advocate who has been integral in changing laws to keep patients safe as well as a member of the Drug Diversion Prevention Committee.

Lauren Lollini is a patient safety advocate who has been integral in changing laws to keep patients safe as well as a member of the Drug Diversion Prevention Committee.

If you are like many Americans out there with access to electricity or cell reception, you have been bombarded by the media attention to this ebola situation. I phrase it as a situation because I do not quite know how else to categorize it, yet. Typically, I am not one to catastrophize. And like my fellow patient safety advocates across the country, we are not surprised by the same things which might mortify the rest of our fellow Americans.

Why not, you ask? Because we have seen this all before, over and over again.

Simply stated, we have all experienced the broken systems, the breakdown in communication and the lack of proper training and protocols leading to the harm of patients and healthcare workers. I am not sure the general public realizes that the CDC can only offer guidelines and best practices. They are not a regulatory agency and therefore cannot require their protocols be implemented. If you are listening to the sound bites, it appears as though they are not reacting.

So those same politicians who are putting health officials on the hot seat may also be the ones who are responsible for the CDC’s 10% budget cut in 2013 which equates to nearly $1 billion dollars. State and local public health staff have also been cut by about 50,000 or 20% of their workforce. How does this help prepare us in a time of crisis?

But when you take a closer look, you will see the lack of training for the nurses in Texas was not due to the CDC, but due to improper procedures implemented and enforced by the hospital. It appears this Texas hospital would not have been the only hospital caught unprepared.

A healthcare facility can say they have all the systems in place needed to keep patients and workers safe, but who is enforcing them? Who is held responsible when these systems are not followed? Who is to blame when a poster is hung up and everyone is immediately expected to know what to do to prevent further transmission of a deadly virus?

Our patients deserve better, but more importantly, our nurses and other healthcare workers on the front lines deserve better!

Due to the courage of people like Brianna Aguirre, an RN at Texas Health Presbyterian, the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan was treated, and her choice to speak out about the lapses in safety measures at this hospital, a national debate was started. Now deep discussions are being had about what can be done to better implement the strategies needed to handle an outbreak like the one we are trying to prevent. With her straightforward explanation, Brianna allowed us all to see the lack of training and the unclear protocols in place at this Texas hospital as well as the inadequate protective equipment. The devastating result is 2 nurses (as of this writing) have now contracted the virus.

We need to learn from the mistakes made at this Texas hospital. We must move to mandate, by law, the CDC’s infection prevention recommendations. We must insure specific protocols are in place for rapid ebola testing as well as any other hospital acquired infections. We must have more stringent rules regarding the transport of infected patients to one of the four ebola trained hospitals as well as CDC oversight on the hospital floor of the infected patient 24/7. These recommendations and others have been submitted by a nationwide patient safety advocacy organization, The Consumers Union Health Care Safety Network, and are currently being circulated.

I’m not sure which is better, the old days before we knew about universal precautions and injection safety and hospital acquired infections, before the days of media frenzies and social media rants or today, as a nation with the resources and the potential to show the rest of the world how it is done. I choose not to go backward and live in ignorance. I choose to stay informed, even if it does infuriate me at times, and help to be part of the solution.

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