B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall.

B.C. hospitals ‘not ready’ for Ebola, nurses warn

Dr. Perry Kendall says province will review protocols, step up infection-control training for staff

B.C.’s nurses are “legitimately scared” about Ebola but haven’t been adequately trained to safely treat patients and avoid risking themselves or spreading the deadly virus to the broader population, according to their union president.

B.C. Nurses Union president Gayle Duteil detailed her concerns Tuesday in a letter to regional health authorities after three suspected Ebola cases turned up in Lower Mainland hospitals but were ultimately ruled out.

Duteil said Fraser Health and other health regions are “not ready” to respond to the arrival of an Ebola case.

A union survey found nurses in units designated to isolate and treat Ebola patients haven’t yet been sufficiently trained in using protective gear to avoid infection.

Duteil is calling for immediate action to plug gaps in Ebola response planning, along with detailed simulations for front line staff.

“This cannot wait until there is another suspected case in an ER within the province,” she said. “If the health system wants our members to put themselves at risk of exposure to a deadly disease we expect that every reasonable precaution be put in place on a priority basis.”

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall acknowledged more must be done and said he will co-chair a committee to review protocols and coordinate efforts by the health authorities.

“Our first priority will be on establishing the processes to familiarize or refamiliarize health care workers with personal protective equipment so if they have to use it they can use it safely and confidently,” Kendall told reporters.

He said health authorities may disagree with the BCNU assessment that they are unprepared.

But Kendall said the handling of each of the three recent suspect cases – two of which were hospitalized in Surrey and Vancouver before being ruled out – turned up some issues in need of improvement. He described those cases as low to medium risk.

North American anxiety about the disease outbreak that has killed thousands in West Africa soared after a patient arrived in Texas with the virus and later died.

A nurse there subsequently tested positive for the virus although it’s unclear how she was exposed.

“Given the concern over the breakdown of infection control we heard from Texas It is really appropriate for us to double up on that and make sure people who are going to be on the front lines are confident and competent and comfortable putting the equipment on and particularly in taking it off,” Kendall said.

The risk from Ebola to the general public in B.C. is “vanishingly small, if not zero,” he added.

Kendall praised the past bravery of health care workers in dealing with outbreaks such as SARS and pointed to HIV as a precedent where fear of exposure at times threatened to hinder treatment.

Unlike airborne viruses, Ebola can only be caught through direct contact with bodily fluids of a patient who has symptoms.

Fraser Health’s head of infection control previously predicted the region would successfully isolate and contain any Ebola patient arriving in the region at its designated hospital – Surrey Memorial.

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority hasn’t identified a primary hospital to take suspect cases, instead expecting all sites to be ready.

Although suspect patients in B.C. to date have turned out not to have Ebola, public health officials expect health workers here will be confronted with the real thing.

More suspect cases are also likely since about 40 people a month arrive here from West Africa and some are likely to display flu-like symptoms – two factors that trigger isolation pending further assessment.

The BCNU letter warns the union has advised members to only care for suspected Ebola patients if they’ve been provided proper equipment and training.

It also urges improved procedures on cleaning and handling garbage, protocols on handling the deceased and asks what contingency plans will be in place when ERs are already full.

Just Posted

Transportation Safety Board’s out-of-date data system makes it hard to track trends

An upgrade to the system will be coming in the next fiscal year

Canadian Armed Forces to change approach to sexual assault investigations

New program aimed at a more open and transparent process, will consult with civilians, health and law professionals

UPDATED: West Shore RCMP officer cleared in Goldstream trestle death

Independent Investigation Office of BC issues final report

Changes coming to BC Ferries reservations for Vancouver Island routes

Many customers are booking multiple reservations, inflating wait times

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Langley school pulls Japanese ‘rising sun’ flag after student petition

School district promises consultation with students and parents, defends using flag for war history

Calgary bobsled death inquiry recommends infrared technology, safety audits

A judge found the deaths of 17-year-old twins Evan and Jordan Caldwell were accidental and caused by blunt-force head and neck trauma

First ski hill in B.C. opened this weekend

Sun Peaks, near Kamloops, was the first ski hill in the province to open for season

$50k fine and community service for Vancouver Island tax evader

David Gonyea was given a nine-month conditional sentence

Paved Pacific Rim National Park trail costs balloon to $51 million

Feds kick in an additional $17 million to complete trail running between Tofino and Ucluelet

Island connection to launch of new $10 bill

Great nephew of Viola Desmond says bill is a ‘step in the right direction’

B.C. fire chief learns from California fires

Chief Travis Whiting and Kelowna Fire Department learn from the devasting U.S. fires

1st Indigenous woman to start Canadian airline looks to B.C.’s remote regions

Teara Fraser is the first Indigenous woman in Canada to start her own airline, called Iskwew Air

Most Read