Improvements in the way hospitals address potential infectious disease threats that arose from the Ebola epidemic highlight the importance of a sustained approach toward preparedness, a new survey finds.
A recent survey of more than 1,300 healthcare workers found an increase in the number of respondents who felt their healthcare facility was prepared to receive a patient with the Ebola virus compared with a previous survey conducted in October.
The findings, released in January by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (PDF), polled more than 880 infection preventionists who practice in inpatient acute-care facilities to get a better picture as to the ongoing needs of health workers in their preparedness efforts. The survey was conducted from Dec. 18 through Jan. 5.
While respondents said the amount of time taken to train staff on Ebola safety protocols, such as the donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, increased, 79% reported that such focus reduced their facility's capacity to prepare for infection prevention for other disease threats.
“Infection preventionists and those working in infection prevention and control departments spend a significant amount of time on Ebola-related activities, and that has taken them away from the other critical daily infection control activities,” said Mary Lou Manning, president of APIC.
The number of respondents who said their facility was “well-prepared to handle an Ebola patient increased from 6% in October to 14% in January with 98% believing they were more prepared now compared to last year.
But 63% reported “no” when asked whether they felt their hospital had made a commitment to providing additional prevention and control resources as a result of attention given toward the Ebola epidemic.
“There doesn't seem to be a groundswell for committing additional resources,” Manning said. “If you pick up a newspaper, the national reality and the conversation has really shifted from not just Ebola preparedness but to this broader issue of emergency preparedness in general, and as it's related to infectious diseases.”
Fears have waned about the possibility of Ebola spreading throughout the U.S. in the same manner in which it has in West Africa, where more than 22,000 cases and more than 8,800 deaths have been reported as of Jan. 28, according to the World Health Organization.
But other infectious diseases such as influenza and more recently a multistate measles outbreak has kept a spotlight on hospital preparedness and control efforts.
Many hospitals have faced a cost burden in preparing for a possible Ebola case. In October the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations to healthcare providers that called for more-stringent protocols for personal protective equipment that leaves no skin exposed. The CDC also advised hospitals to assign an observer who monitors clinicians and workers as they don and doff equipment, as well as a site manager to make sure all protocols are maintained.
In light of such monetary concerns, Manning said it was up to infection disease preventionists to do a better job of maintaining data to support the impact of their efforts toward reducing disease threats, most of which are related to stopping hospital-acquired infections.
“As soon as there is an event that happens, whether it's something emergency-related such as Ebola or measles, there will be increased visibility for the infection preventionist,” Manning said. “But it's the day-to-day work that is vitally important.”
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