The CDC has released updated and stricter guidelines to keep frontline healthcare workers safe in the face of potential Ebola cases. The move comes after two nurses were infected with Ebola who treating Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital and the CDC’s oversight was questioned.
Hospitals across the country are now ramping up training efforts, but will they be sufficient enough to calm an uneasy workforce? When nurse Jessica Berney goes to work these days she sees something she’s not used to.
“You see these stacks of these plastic bags that have the personal protection equipment in it, and it’s kind of like an anticipation of something bad is going happen. Something big and something bad,” she says.
Not only are the stacks of gear new, that feeling the dread that Berney says has crept into the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, that’s new too.
“Is this going to be enough? Is this going to protect me,” she says.
At this point, it’s clear if the disease were to spread beyond the two current cases, the people most at risk of contracting Ebola in the U.S. are healthcare workers — in particular, nurses and orderlies are the people most likely to come into contact with patient fluids.
The guidelines released by the CDC are aimed at many of these workers. But you can have all the protocols you want, a room stuffed with gear and Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Daniel Barnett says you still may have staff scared stiff. He says he worries hospitals right now are making the same assumption he made about a decade ago.
“That people would be willing to come to work, regardless of scenario, regardless of context, regardless of personal and professional obligations given,” he says.
But his work in the field he calls psychological preparedness proved him wrong.
“We found that a third of hospital workers indicated they would be unwilling to show up in a severe pandemic. You can think of a severe influenza pandemic in terms of the fear in some ways as a proxy for what we are talking about with regards to Ebola,” he says.
Barnett, through a randomized controlled, found if employers educate their employees about how they fit into the plan to fight the public health threat, those workers are 12 times more likely to clock in.
But National Nurses United union president Deborah Burger says before any of that, you’ve got to remember some hospitals aren’t even covering the basics yet.
“They are not even supplying the equipment to allay the fears of the healthcare workers,” she says.
Burger says her members are urging President Obama to make CDC’s guidelines mandatory. With some 5,000 hospitals she worries about a patchwork of practices that could leave workers at risk and scared.
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