Though the chance of Ebola coming to the Wood River Valley is deemed slight, St. Luke’s Wood River hospital is developing plans to deal with the illness. The protocols are being created in coordination with the rest of the St. Luke’s system, which consists of seven regular hospitals as well as a cancer center and a children’s hospital.
Dr. Bart Hill, chief quality officer with St. Luke’s, said the protocols are changing to stay in conformance with current directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hill said staff members at Wood River are being trained on how to assess patients arriving with Ebola-like symptoms. He said those patients will be queried on whether they’ve been to any of the four countries in Africa suffering the epidemic, or whether they’ve been in close contact with someone who has been and has exhibited Ebola-like symptoms.
Hill said anyone with potential for having Ebola will first be isolated from other people as much as possible while a call is made between the emergency room doctor or other treating physician and an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s in Boise. If tests are deemed warranted, the patient will be transferred to an Ebola center now being created at the hospital in Boise while the test is being conducted, which takes from 36 to 48 hours.
St. Luke’s is recommending that everyone get a flu shot this fall.
Hill said a specialized care team in Boise is being trained in how to minimize exposure to themselves while attending to potential Ebola patients. He said team members are being trained to perform as many tasks as possible to reduce the number of caregivers needed. He said team members will be assigned to only four-hour shifts since working in the protective gear is hot and uncomfortable.
Hill said a drill on procedures for dealing with a potential Ebola patient was conducted at St. Luke’s on Tuesday.
He said St. Luke’s is waiting to hear about procedures for notification from the CDC of travelers coming to Idaho from West Africa who are showing signs of illness, so the hospital can be prepared to deal with them safely. He also said anyone going to the emergency room who could have Ebola should call beforehand for the same reason.
St. Luke’s is recommending that everyone get a flu shot this fall, to reduce the number of people going to the hospital with flu-like symptoms, which are similar to the early signs of Ebola. Hill said that with fewer flu cases, the hospital will have less need to use its Ebola-response protocols.
Hill said the hospital has been informed to expect to have its protocols in place for about a year, until the outbreak in Africa is over.
Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle discussed disease control at a City Council meeting Monday. He reminded attendees that Ebola symptoms are similar to those of the common flu—and the flu is much more common. He asked residents to get the flu shot to mitigate health resource drains in the valley.
“Here in Blaine County, we only have so many resources and we only have one hospital,” he said.
He said the chances of contracting Ebola in the Wood River Valley are extremely slim but healthcare workers have the highest risk.
“We are prepared,” he said. “We have weekly planning meetings that involve everybody from dispatch to county commissioners to disaster services coordinator, to the School District, the South Central Health District.”
Express reporter Amy Busek contributed to this report.