Ebola nurses demand better protection

Nurses working at hospitals in D.C. took their demands for better training and more protective clothing gear to use when they work with Ebola-infected patients to the White House on Nov. 12. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Nurses working at hospitals in D.C. took their demands for better training and more protective clothing gear to use when they work with Ebola-infected patients to the White House on Nov. 12. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

A surgeon who lived part of the year in New Carrollton and the rest of the time in his native Sierra Leone died early Monday morning from the Ebola virus.

It is not known how Dr. Martin Salia contracted Ebola nor are doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center – where he was treated during his final 36 hours – positive what strain of the virus he had, though they suspect it was the Zaire strain.

Salia was treating Ebola victims at United Methodist Kissy Hospital in Sierra Leone when he came down with the disease. According to his doctors who held a press conference Monday, his kidneys had completely shut down, and he was in respiratory distress when he died of cardiac arrest.
He is not the only health-care worker to contract the disease, and last week roughly 25,000 nurses staged a nationwide strike to call attention to the fact that most health-care workers are not sufficiently trained or have access to the protection outfits that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended for those treating Ebola patients.

Carrying bright red signs that read “Global Nurses United Against Ebola” and “Stop Ebola. Protect RNs. Protect Patients,” nurses marched to the White House gates, chanting “Stand Up. Fight Back.” The picketing and striking actions were coordinated by National Nurses United (NNU), a nurses’ union.


Micker Samias, a triage nurse at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, said that while hospitals “have stepped up, there is room for more” training and equipment for health-care workers. “We are looking for the optimal training, drills and equipment,” she said.

Sandra Lloyd, a nurse at Providence Hospital in D.C., said that while nursing was something she chose despite knowing there were risks involved, she believed nurses must have better protective clothing and more training from the hospitals that employ them.

When Lloyd decided to join last week’s protest, she understood that it meant missing her 12-hour shift followed by an eight-hour on-call shift. Going on strike was a hard decision, she said, explaining that she has always believed her patients come first, “I thought this cause was important.”

“Nurses, who have been willing to stand by the patients whether it’s the flu, whether it’s Ebola, whether it’s cancer, are now being asked to put themselves in harm’s way – unprotected, unguarded,” said NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro.

NNU is demanding full-body hazardous material suits that meet the American Society for Testing and Materials standard for blood protection and viral penetration and that leave no skin exposed or unprotected. They also want National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved powered air-purifying respirators as well as rigorous, interactive training for all health-care workers who might have to assist Ebola patients.

Rolyn, a national disaster recovery and environmental remediation firm that is located in Rockville, has stepped up its efforts to provide Washington, D.C., metropolitan-area hospitals with quickly assembled Ebola isolation rooms to be used by hospital health-care workers.

The module containment system can be erected, modified or removed in a short time. The structures are generally placed adjacent to a hospital’s quarantine area, which most hospitals already have. Usually, isolation for the patient is all that is needed to deal with a contagious patient.

But with Ebola, a patient’s highly contagious medical waste as well as the equipment and clothing used by health-care workers while in the patient’s room must also be specially handled for decontamination. It would be costly to add a special room for this in every hospital, especially because it would be rarely used. But with Rolyn’s modular containment system, health-care workers can change in and out of protective gear without fear of contaminating the rest of the hospital.

“Our containment barriers allow for sensitive areas to be isolated and maintained under negative air pressure,” explained Noel Fisher, vice president of emergency services and health care at Rolyn. “The isolation area ensures that the facility can safely treat the patient while protecting staff and eliminating the chances of cross-contamination.”

There currently are more than 14,000 reported Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. More than 5,100 people have died.

Last week, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, held a hearing on the international response to the virus, calling out the World Health Organization (WHO) for downplaying the crisis in its beginning. “Inept country office directors ignored warnings by Doctors Without Borders, refused assistance from the CDC and USAID, and blocked entry for teams of experts. By the time WHO finally sounded the alarm on Aug. 8, the outbreak was out of control,” Royce said.

He called for a temporary suspension of visas for non-U.S. nationals.

Since Texas nurse Nina Pham was cured of Ebola while at the National Institutes for Health in Bethesda, there have not been any new cases in Maryland. Still, the Montgomery County Faith Community Advisory Board was to have held an interfaith prayer and music event yesterday evening at the Silver Spring Civic Center Building where participants were to have learned the latest news on the Ebola crisis and brought such items as dried beans, rice, canned food, medical supplies, masks, gloves and hand sanitizers to be sent to West Africa. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington was a supporting organizer of the event that was held after Washington Jewish Week went to press.

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