A special contributing post by Lauren Westin, MD
It is not often I offer comments on health matters in the headlines. Yet, I’ve had to reassure a few of my patients and their families not to worry. It is easier said than done.
The Ebola virus has been front and center in the headlines over the past few weeks. The last several days, it became “another day, another development” type of event. Though others call it a crisis, I loathe to label it as such – at least here in the United States. At its epicenter in West Africa, there is no escape from calling it a crisis. It is a crisis there, with the potential of spiraling out of control. If it does spiral out of control, it becomes an enormous problem of unimaginable consequences for everyone. Everywhere.
The declarative statements, such as “we are fully prepared” and “all of our health professionals stand ready”, belied our actual readiness to handle Ebola. The response was glaringly poor from the outset. Protocols and guidance from the CDC were virtually nonexistent. It underscored how our preparedness is rather limited in coping with such diseases. A lack of leadership, lack of organization, lack of procedure, and lack of equipment has led us to where we find ourselves. Moreover, the many shortcomings undermined the confidence and reassurance that is needed in these kind of moments.
While an individual is, statistically, more likely to contract the flu or the common cold, we are quite fortunate, and lucky, that our brush with Ebola, outside of the hot zone, has not been worse. The ability of our health system to regain its footing, after a bad stumble, is a credit to those frontline professionals who made adjustments on the fly. Being ready, being prepared, for this kind of situation requires practice on a consistent, repeated basis, much like how we practice for mass casualty events. It requires defined roles, resource planning and critical review.
Next time, we may not be as fortunate or lucky.
About the image –
From the archives (2008), the University of Colorado Hospital at the Fitzsimons campus in Aurora, CO. UCH is deemed as one of three hospitals in Colorado to be ready to receive Ebola-infected patients.