The Ebola Virus went from being a “what if” discussion to a “now what” one when a patient was hospitalized at a non-HCA facility last fall in Texas.

Local, national and even international reports analyzed everything from patient care, to infection prevention, to quarantine for care teams. Across town and around the country, teams throughout HCA already had researched these concerns exhaustively as they put plans into place to ensure patient safety and quality of care should a patient with Ebola, or any other highly infectious disease, seek care at an HCA facility.

That’s no surprise. A vigorous response to a major health crisis, such as a potential viral outbreak or natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, is a hallmark of HCA’s ongoing and robust preparedness efforts.

Preparing for an Ebola outbreak meant a lot of new equipment, including special protective suits.
Preparing for an Ebola outbreak meant a lot of new equipment, including special protective suits.

Throughout the Ebola crisis, that response was very much on display. Facilities spoke to each other continually about facility readiness issues, as well as to response teams in division offices and at HCA’s corporate offices in Nashville. At the same time, the changing CDC guidelines were being assessed, and that information was shared across HCA as well as with other healthcare organizations, says Scott Cormier, Director of Emergency Preparedness & Management for HCA’s Clinical Services Group.

“We began monitoring Ebola in January 2014, and by the end of July, we were having conversations with our Capital Division because they are near Dulles Airport, which is a top spot for inbound travel from West Africa,” Cormier says. “By August, we had issued guidance across HCA on how to deal with suspected or confirmed Ebola patients. This was before the CDC released their guidance, and in our guidelines the personal protective equipment (PPE) we specified for our caregivers was actually above what the CDC standard was for Ebola because we wanted to take extra precautions in order to protect our staff.”

The CDC has since upgraded its guidelines around respiratory equipment and standards, he adds.

Guidelines, training in place

DSC_0062When the first patient presented at a Dallas hospital and healthcare workers subsequently became infected, HCA facilities in the area and nationwide were prepared, thanks to these guidelines. Now every facility is ready to move should an Ebola patient present in any HCA care facility.
“We did webcasts on very basic things, such as explaining what Ebola is,” Cormier says. “We also shared our resources with other healthcare organizations around the country, and worked to make sure significant issues were addressed, like making sure there was, and will be, enough personal protective equipment in the supply chain to protect healthcare workers.”

“We were really on top of this when Ebola was not a concern for a lot of people,” Cormier adds. “Our guidance was placed on the Federal government’s Homeland Security Information Network site, and in August and September, it was that site’s most downloaded document.”

Facilities lead the way

With all this in place, when the news broke that “patient zero” was in Dallas, HCA hospitals in the North Texas Division were prepared to swing into action. That included updating inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE), staff training on patient screening and donning and doffing PPE, lab preparations for specimen handling, and detailed patient flow planning in emergency departments. These processes and protocols have since been shared with all HCA facilities, and showcase the rapid, professional response to major medical challenges that is a cornerstone of HCA’s culture. “A team of eight people went to North Texas to conduct an intense training session centered on the practices and policies related to the updated CDC recommendations, so that our people were ready,” explains Dian Adams, Associate Vice President of Nursing Leadership.

Another site of tremendous activity during this time was Oklahoma University Medical Center, which is now the state’s official go-to Ebola treatment center, says Dan Raiden, Vice President of Support Services and Strategic Operations Improvement.

“We have our amended license to add two additional beds, and have created dedicated space for those beds in a separate building on campus,” he says of the multifaceted project, which included both new construction and renovation.

All the moving pieces show how the HCA system comes together to provide rapid training, deployment of resources and excellent patient care, Adams points out.

“We can deploy resources where and when they are needed,” she says. “Now we will work to ensure that every facility continues to train and maintain their skills.”