L+M executive: 'We don't know enough about Ebola'

Norwich — Despite “glib assurances” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital chief executive Bruce Cummings said Tuesday he doesn’t think U.S. health officials know enough about Ebola to ensure that those who follow the appropriate protocols won’t get the disease.

Cummings, speaking at the Holiday Inn Norwich during a Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut business breakfast, said he didn’t want to alarm anyone but pointed to the case of a 26-year-old health care worker in Texas who contracted the deadly Ebola virus despite apparently using all the standard protective gear.

How did she get Ebola, which has no known cure and kills at least half the people who contract the virus? Cummings wondered.

“We don’t know,” he said. “This is a very extraordinary disease.”

Cummings said L+M and other hospitals statewide have been preparing diligently to meet the Ebola crisis head-on. The hospital already has had at least one patient treated with the Ebola protocol — though she turned out to not have the disease — and Cummings said L+M plans upcoming drills with fake patients to test the system in place.

“We have a strong focus on containment and isolation until we can get them to a higher level of care,” he told an assemblage of about 60 people during a question-and-answer session.

Hospitals across the state have weekly conference calls with the CDC to get updates on the Ebola situation, Cummings said. Meanwhile, L+M has been stockpiling personal protective equipment for workers, he said, while training personnel on symptoms to look for and questions to ask.

Officials at L+M previously disclosed that staff formed an Ebola preparedness committee last month to explore different ways personnel could be exposed to the virus. Among other precautions, the hospital has instituted a “buddy system” to pair nurses with colleagues who can ensure protective gear is put on and taken off properly.

Cummings said there has been talk on a national level of designating any one of four health care facilities across the nation as a place where Ebola patients can be isolated, an idea he said makes sense.

“Something like Ebola really needs to be at the highest and most esoteric level of care,” Cummings said. “If I were the czar, I’d be working on that right now.”

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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