GHA's Dr. Doug Patten on Georgia Hospitals & Ebola

Dr. Doug Patten

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Ebola is a highly contagious, deadly disease that has resulted in more than 4,000 deaths in West Africa in nine months.

Influenza is a highly contagious, deadly disease that claims the lives of over 35,000 people every year in this country alone.

We fear one more than the other because one is the devil we know.

Our collective fear of Ebola rests mostly on what we don’t know.

Despite all of the uncertainty surrounding this evolving situation, Georgia residents can be assured that the entire Georgia healthcare community continues to work around the clock to protect our patients, our heroic healthcare workers and our communities. In fact, we’ve had comprehensive systems in place since 9/11 to address any potential threats to public health and safety. We’ve designed detailed communication networks that have already served us well in response to mass injury catastrophes (2008 sugar refinery explosion in Savannah), natural disasters (tornadoes in Americus, Adairsville, Ringgold, etc.), and public health threats and infectious diseases (SARS, avian and swine flu, and the H1N1 pandemic).

When the 2014 Ebola outbreak began in March, we began to get information about the virus and its spread throughout three neighboring countries in West Africa. The World Health Organization and our own Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provided information about the disease and updates on the epidemic. Information was shared with healthcare providers across our country, but the problem was halfway around the world until two American missionaries came home sick. Suddenly, we were all aware of the potential for this epidemic to invade our own homeland. Interest in disaster readiness grew, but fear was growing faster. With fear as fuel, misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Georgians should know that the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has taken the lead on Ebola management. Working with the CDC and the experts at Emory, DPH has continued to provide information for healthcare providers, as well as establishing 24/7 support for hospitals and doctors so no one is left without help. These efforts continue to adapt and evolve as we learn more about Ebola.

The Georgia Hospital Association and the entire Georgia hospital community are working alongside DPH and Commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald to create more streamlined access to the latest information, ensuring the dissemination of vital communication and providing resource materials and updates to healthcare providers in the state.

Georgians expect their hospitals to be well prepared to handle the routine and the unexpected. Georgians should know that hospitals have been evaluating and screening potential Ebola cases successfully for weeks. These hospitals are continuing to sharpen their skills with education and training. The disaster preparedness system, already in place, exists to respond to any threats of drug or supply needs so no patient suffers from the unexpected.

We are fortunate to have Emory University Hospital here in Georgia. Despite initial criticism, they took the risk of accepting and treating the first Ebola victims. The ability of their teams to apply the science and adhere to the procedures has given them well-deserved international accolades. Emory’s willingness to share their experience with any and all will help us all know better how to safely and effectively provide care for potential and confirmed cases of Ebola.

Georgians should know that there are known illnesses that are more threatening to us than Ebola: the flu, for example. (By the way, we should all take responsibility for getting vaccinated and follow good personal hygiene practices to avoid getting and spreading the flu.)

Georgians should also know that all hospitals across the state are actively developing their own specific response to Ebola, but they are doing it as part of an evolving statewide strategy.

The goals are straightforward:

• Suspected cases will be promptly identified and effectively and efficiently evaluated

• Confirmed cases will receive the best possible treatment in the best available environment

• The safety of the providers will be assured

In the best of all possible outcomes, no one will contract Ebola in Georgia. But if that happens, our hospitals are working daily to prepare for that one.

Dr. Doug Patten is chief medical officer for the Georgia Hospital Association.

Read more at the AJC Think Blog.