The Wyoming Medical Center staff in Casper has received many calls in the days since the United States experienced its first Ebola outbreak.
People have wanted to know whether they should be buying up antibiotics, taking more medicines, buying hazardous-materials suits or stockpiling food.
“You turn on the TV and what do you see? Ebola, Ebola, Ebola,” said Dr. Ghazi Ghanem, an infectious diseases specialist. “But this is overkill; it’s irrational. … Hopefully it will never hit, but if it does, we can deal with it.”
In the past few weeks, emergency room staff, valets, nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers have taken walk-throughs of the hospital to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their procedures.
They have watched the reactions of other hospitals to see what has worked and what hasn’t. They have been in constant contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wyoming Department of Health to make sure they have the most up-to-date procedures.
And although hospital spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer believes that no hospital can guarantee it is completely prepared for a situation as new and evolving as Ebola in the United States, she says Wyoming Medical Center has taken concrete steps to be ready.
It starts outside the front doors of the hospital, where valets trained to quickly assess the needs of arriving patients have a new question prepared if someone is exhibiting symptoms similar to those of Ebola.
Have you traveled outside the United States in the past six weeks?
A yes answer triggers some follow-up questions, and if there is a risk, a nurse in protective equipment escorts the patient to the ambulance bay and into room 8 of the emergency room.
“Everything we are doing is to protect the public and minimize contact,” said Corrine Arross, senior nurse manager of the emergency department.
In the ambulance bay, a tall cupboard and stacks of clear, plastic totes are filled with multiple hazardous-materials suits in a variety of sizes.
More “Ebola kits” with protective equipment are stashed in ambulances and under the front desk in the triage room, anywhere someone is likely to be the first point of contact for an Ebola patient.
From the ambulance bay, a patient would be brought to emergency room 8.
Room 8 is isolated from the rest of the hospital and comes equipped with a shower and a toilet, both of which drain into a waste holding tank that keeps it separated from the city’s infrastructure.
Nurses go through sterilization before entering and leaving the room. All trash is double-bagged and escorted by two people -- one to hold the trash and one to open doors and clear the way -- on the way to an incinerator that reaches 1,500 degrees.
It’s the only one of its kind in the state, according to hospital officials.
“We take (Ebola) very seriously, but we are not very worried,” Ghanem said. “We have a very sophisticated health care system that will (react) and already is reacting in a very timely fashion, and I really don’t think this is going to take hold at all in the U.S.”
Once the patient is stable, the next step is to play detective. Working in conjunction with the CDC and the patient, Wyoming Medical Center would begin to track whom the patient could have been in contact with.
Based on the risk factor, the CDC prioritizes tests.
“Really, if you are on a plane or in a room with someone, that’s considered no known exposure because (Ebola) is spread through bodily fluids,” said Kelly Weidenbach, executive director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department.
Going forward, Wyoming Medical Center will continue refining, updating and practicing its plan, said Bleizeffer.
Hospital staffers also intend to increase training for the staff, reach out to local doctors and offer advice on how to handle an Ebola patient.
Bleizeffer recommended that people get flu shots because many Ebola symptoms mimic those of the flu.