Ebola drills held statewide including Mercy and Cox Hospitals

Published: May. 29, 2019 at 4:57 PM CDT
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You've heard of tornado drills and disaster drills.

But on Wednesday across Missouri there was a statewide Ebola drill for medical facilities to plan their response to the rare but often fatal virus.

Mercy made its drill available to the media in a rare opportunity to see how employees work diligently to prepare for all types of infectious disease scenarios.

In this case the Ebola patient was actually a nurse volunteering for the drill, but as she entered the decontamination area at Mercy hospital, she would see a room divided into three separate sections and hazmat-suited medical personnel there to take her through the process.

"We divide this room into hot, warm, and cold areas," explained Russ Conroy, Mercy's Director of Emergency Preparedness and Safety. "Before we've done anything we want to keep the highly-infectious isolated here (in the hot zone). Once we have them decontaminated, we move into the warm or cold zone and that's where we are safe to work."

The patient is then assessed in an isolated room (separate from the rest of the emergency room) where they are also placed into a clear plastic bag-looking device known as an ISO-POD.

"The ISO-POD is a negative chamber in which the air is filtered both coming and going," Conroy said. "It gives us a way to work with the patient without directly being in contact with them and it's great for moving."

From there the ISO-POD is scrubbed down with bleach and the patient is then handed off to hazmat-suited EMT's, who transport her to a waiting ambulance and a trip to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for further evaluation and eventually to an Ebola treatment center in Nebraska or Iowa.

The drill offered a learning experience for everyone including the practice patient, Christy Bos.

"It was a little bit scary for me so I can only imagine as a patient what kind of experience that may be for them," she said. "When they wiped the ISO-POD down with bleach, the fumes became very strong."

"That was a lesson learned," Conroy said of the bleach problem. "That's something we had not heard before."

Evaluators from the National Ebola Training Education Center were on hand at both Mercy and Cox for Wednesday's drills and although there have been only 11 reported cases of Ebola in the U.S., officials like Kendra Findley with the Springfield- Greene Co. Health Department say being prepared is vital.

"I think it's incredibly important," Findley said. "With any infectious disease there's always the potential for the spread to other areas of the world."

"We have, as an example, the Assemblies of God headquarters here," Conroy added. "So we have a significant number of missionaries that go all over the world that come back here. Not that they're contagious, but that's just a heightened awareness that we need to keep at all times."

"We absolutely need to be prepared for this," Bos said. "It could affect anybody. If you travel anywhere on an airplane you could be next to somebody that is traveling back (and been infected)."

In humans Ebola is spread through direct physical contact with infected body fluids. It is not an airborne disease, but it can be transmitted indirectly by touching contaminated surfaces and objects.

Flu-like symptoms mark the early stages of the virus, making it hard to diagnose. But it's Republic of Congo origination is part of the puzzle in determining the illness whose fatality rate is between 25-90 percent.

"Just because you start off with flu-like symptoms, really what we're worried about is tagging that with travel to an Ebola-affected area," Finley explained in how doctors come up with a diagnosis.