A sign in 10 different languages in the emergency room entrance at Southampton Hospital provides a warning to patients who think they have contracted the Ebola virus.
By Stephen J. Kotz
Up until the end of September, the Ebola virus was of little concern to most Americans. The deadly disease seemed to be confined to three countries in Western Africa—Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
But then Thomas Erin Duncan, 42, a Liberian who was visiting relatives in Dallas, fell ill and died on October 8 from Ebola. Since then, three other Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, including two nurses who treated Mr. Duncan, and Dr. Craig Spencer, a New York physician, who was infected while working with Physicians Without Borders in Guinea, and remains hospitalized at Bellevue Hospital in the city.
In the meantime, Southampton Hospital, like other medical centers across the country, is taking its own precautions to deal with the deadly disease.
Following the guidelines set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, the hospital has set up an isolation room in its emergency department in the event that a patient suffering from the symptoms of Ebola should arrive at the hospital, even though there have not been any reported cases in Suffolk County.
“I would think this is something everyone is taking very seriously,” said hospital spokeswoman Marsha Kenny on Monday. Officials at the hospital are monitoring the situation in both Western Africa and the United States, she said. “We want to make sure our staff is trained and drilled in the protocols. Safety is key.”
Prominently displayed at the hospital’s main entrances are signs in English, Spanish, Chinese and at half dozen other languages asking if visitors have been in Western Africa recently and are exhibiting any of the symptoms of Ebola, which begins with the victim getting a fever.
The problem, Ms. Kenny said, is that the disease has many of the same symptoms as the flu or malaria.
“If you have a fever you should go to the emergency department, and they will ask you a number of questions” to help pinpoint whether you could be suffering from the disease. If so, “you will be accompanied to an isolation room in the emergency department,” Ms. Kenny said. “We will call the department of health and also notify our infectious disease section.”
If the hospital were to receive an Ebola victim, the patient would be transferred as soon as possible to Stony Brook University Hospital, which is the regional center for dealing with the disease, she said.
“We would not be treating the patient here in Southampton,” Ms. Kenny said. “People would be taken by Stony Brook ambulance. Local volunteers would not be involved.”
But in the event a patient calls a local volunteer ambulance service to take them to Southampton Hospital, additional safeguards are in place.
Ed Downes, the president of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said volunteers are receiving training through the county in how to deal with an Ebola patient.
“The dispatchers will have a bunch of questions they’ll ask that will be able to narrow it down,” he said. “If it is a suspected Ebola case, the Stony Brook ambulance would come out and take them straight to Stony Brook.”
Ebola can only be spread if someone comes in direct contact with the bodily fluids of a victim.
As might be expected, the hospital has obtained a supply of bio-hazard suits for staffers to wear in the event someone suffering from the symptoms of Ebola comes to the hospital for treatment, and any staffers who would come in contact have been trained in how to avoid spreading the contagion.
In addition, the hospital is asking anyone who has an appointment at any of its outpatient facilities to answer questions about whether they could have been exposed to the disease. If so, they will be asked to stay home until the department of health contacts them.
This week, all of the Meeting House Lane Medical Practice offices, which are affiliated with the hospital, will also have the warning signs posted, as will the hospital’s outpatient facilities across the South Fork. Managers of each of those facilities will also be undergoing training in what to do in the event that an Ebola victim come in.
The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has a statement from Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken stating that it is “working closely with all area hospitals, first responders and support agencies to be prepared to deal with a range of issues which may arise to protect public health If any member of the public has questions, please all 854-0333.”