- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ebola is fast becoming the toughest of teachers, and we haven’t learned much yet.

That’s surely the lesson from Texas, the first state to have an Ebola case confirmed on U.S. soil, and where not only the patient died, but where a nurse who tended to the Ebola-striken patient has been diagnosed with the killer virus.

Ebola has not yet been contained, people are dying at a breathtaking clip and nobody has come forward to announce the comforting words, “We are prepared to combat Ebola with a vaccine called … “

The Ebola issue also is being muddied by politics, racial hatred and ethnic bias, and ordinarily respected partisan mouthpieces.



Republican Sen. John McCain wants, for example, an Ebola czar.

Democrat Hillary Clinton says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is “working heroically,” but that 2013 sequestration cuts means the CDC doesn’t have the “resources” to win the battle.

Stop the spin. Stop muddying the Ebola problem with falsehoods and rhetoric.

We already have a czar, and his name is President Obama, who has control of the many auspices overseeing America’s public heath, including the CDC, National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the office of the U.S. Surgeon General.

Regarding resources, Mrs. Clinton got it wrong, says Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who did his homework and in an Oct. 12 Politico commentary offers this lesson: “Her argument, like those made by others, misses the point. In recent years, the CDC has received significant amounts of funding. Unfortunately, however, many of those funds have been diverted away from programs that can fight infectious diseases, and toward programs far afield from the CDC’s original purpose.

“Consider the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a new series of annual mandatory appropriations created by Obamacare,” Mr. Jindal said. “Over the past five years, the CDC has received just under $3 billion in transfers from the fund. Yet only 6 percent — $180 million — of that $3 billion went toward building epidemiology and laboratory capacity. Especially given the agency’s postwar roots as the Communicable Disease Center, one would think that ‘detecting and responding to infectious diseases and other public health threats’ warrants a larger funding commitment.”

Our health care workers, meanwhile, are teaching us a thing or two about treating patients and taking care of themselves when it comes to public health.

The discussion continues over whether the nurse in Texas, Nina Pham, 26, broke protocol or whether she and other first responders simply do not have the necessary training and equipment to protect themselves from an outbreak.

According to a survey of 2,000 RNs in 46 states and the District and released Sunday by National Nurses United, it could be both:

Seventy-six percent say their hospital has not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola.

Eighty-five percent say their hospital has not provided education on Ebola with the ability for the nurses to interact and ask questions.

Just over one-third say their hospital has insufficient supplies of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) and fluid resistant/impermeable gowns.

Nearly 40 percent say their hospital does not have plans to equip isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows and discard all linens after use, less than 10 percent said they were aware their hospital does have such a plan in place.

Those are some of the key findings, and the nurses also offered recommendations, including:

Full training of hospital personnel along with proper protocols and training materials for responding to outbreaks.

Adequate supplies of hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment.

Properly equipped isolation rooms to assure patient, visitor and staff safety.

Sufficient staffing to supplement nurses and other health workers who need to care for patients in isolation.

Now, under ordinary circumstances such recommendations could easily be construed as union demands. But with politics trying to undermine public health, it might be best to err on the side of health and safety for now.

People are really dying and the American public is rightly concerned, but other issues are muddying the acute lessons of Ebola.

America has a proud history of arresting the development of communicable diseases, so much so we don’t even have to go the doctor’s office to get a shot. We can get popped at local pharmacies, schools and colleges, health fairs, clinics and houses of worship, and our workplaces. And the shots are often free.In the meantime, our “Ebola czar” and his phalanx of public health entities, especially NIH and CDC, need to get off their tushes and focus on doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

Yes, the words, “We are prepared to combat” measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, polio, etc., etc. are comforting.

If we’re serious about adding Ebola to the long list, then first, cut the crap.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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