American hospitals are shockingly unprepared to treat Ebola patients, nurses across the United States said during an international conference call hosted by the National Nurses United nurses union Wednesday afternoon. Insufficient training, lack of high-level personal protective equipment and improper facilities plague many of the country's hospitals, the nurses said.
"We were given some brief in-service [training] with some isolation cards with some generic gear to wear. We don’t have the hazmat suits -- and the unit I work for is going to be one of the go-to units for Ebola patients and it's not equipped for Ebola patients," Donna Fleming-Coby, a registered nurse at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., said during the call. "It's an accident waiting to happen ... During the in-service we were told we won't have goggles. They said they couldn’t afford the goggles. So it’s a mess. We need help."
Colleagues across the country echoed her concerns. The conference call was organized to address the union's questions about whether U.S. hospitals are truly prepared to correctly isolate Ebola patients, treat the disease and protect health care professionals and the public at large from the virus. The nurses' worries have attracted greater attention since two health care workers have contracted Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who became the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., when he passed away Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.
National Nurses United Co-President Deborah Burger said on the call that nurses who treated Duncan for days after he was admitted with Ebola "said there were no protocols. ... There was no mandate for nurses to attend training, there was no advanced hands-on training for personal protective equipment ... The nurses feel untrained, unprepared and lied to." She called on President Barack Obama to declare a "mandate" to ensure proper protection protocols at all the nation's hospitals.
"Front-line hospital workers must have the highest level of protective equipment, such as hazmat suits used by the Nebraska Medical Center personnel who treat patients with Ebola," National Nurses United said in a statement. "Frontline hospitals workers must have ongoing, interactive education and hands-on training with the ability to ask questions. Additionally, they should have training that includes drills with other hospital personnel, including practicing donning and doffing of appropriate hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment (PPE)."
But that's not what's happening in many American hospitals, according to a succession of nurses from hospitals in cities from Chicago to New York to El Paso, Texas, who spoke on the Wednesday call.
"Unfortunately, most hospitals are not prepared here. In my hospital, New York Presbyterian ... the preparation is not adequate. We are using generic gowns and gear and not hazmat suits," Anthony Ciampa, a registered nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and board member of the New York State Nurses Association, said. "Expectations are not clear when it comes to protocol on Ebola patient care."
Inadequate training, shortages of protective gear and insufficient isolation facilities are problems in Spain and West Africa as well, according to nurses who spoke during the call.
"In our country it is evident that there is a lack of protocol and insufficient training for our nursing staff and workers," a representative for a Spain-based nurses union said on the call.