Why the Ebola crisis could ultimately make our hospitals safer


There has been somewhat of a panic ever since Ebola cases have been confirmed here in the United States. It has been around since the 1970’s, in Africa, and has sporadically flared up into epidemics across the continent. But now that it is here in the U.S., where we actually have world-class health care, people are panicking. Before I start, let me reiterate a fact about Ebola:

-It can ONLY be spread through bodily fluids (i.e. infected blood that comes into contact with mucous membranes)

Now, if nurses and doctors use proper hygienic measures such as washing hands before and after patient contact, then the probability of Ebola spreading has sharply declined. Unfortunately, Nina Pham (the first person to catch Ebola in the U.S.), a nurse at a Texas hospital, had one occurence where she did not follow these protocols, and unfortunately she got infected.

But my point is: hospitals have had recurrent problems with hygiene in the past. Did you know that more people die in the United States from medical malpractice and negligence than do people die from auto accidents? Yep, more than TWICE as many.

If this forces health care professionals to take extra steps to wash hands (hand sanitizer doesn’t cut it, although it is better than nothing), to properly disinfect clothing, fabrics, fixtures, and furniture, to making sure that autoclaves are operating properly, then this could be a positive thing to come out from a very frightening situation.

I work in a hospital myself (not as a nurse or doctor), and have infrequent contact with patient areas, occasionally in isolation areas. You better believe that I wash my hands as much as needed, and wear a respirator and TYVEK suits (we call them “bunny suits”) when going into operation room corridors. This is to not only protect my health, but the health of others around me. This is only common sense. There have been many surveys taken on hospital hygiene measures, and the level of nurses and doctors who consistently wash their hands is generally in the 85 to 90% range. If ever there was a metric that demanded 100% compliance, this is most certainly it.

Hospitals are notoriously secretive when it comes to transparency (one thing which the Affordable Care Act is trying to help eliminate), and when breaches in patient safety happen, the gut reaction from hospital administrations is to keep it as quiet as possible. Well, with this Ebola crisis, the public has a right to know as much as possible to help us learn more about the disease, and to help protect ourselves.

Ebola is a very frightening disease (and I hope that it never mutates into an airborne virus, which would become an epidemic of unprecedented proportions), but we have one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to fight it: common sense. I don’t care if you are a janitor, CNA, food service worker, doctor, or surgeon; common sense is our first-line defense. If we all do our part, then we can contain this as much as possible. Some studies have said that they think that the Ebola cases in the U.S. will peak in December of this year, and start slowly tapering off.

As health care workers, we can all do our part. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and our fellow citizens.