Although there have only been three cases of Ebola diagnosed in the United States, unease about contracting the disease has spread across the country.
At the same time, nurses are asking President Barack Obama to mandate uniform procedures for dealing with Ebola in all U.S. hospitals, where they say preparations are, for the most part, far from adequate. Public officials are supporting these requests.
Houston, Texas' U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee came together with doctors and nurses demanding all U.S. hospitals provide adequate protective clothing for health care workers who may encounter Ebola.
“This is the type of equipment that should be utilized by any medical professionals, including nurses and others that are dealing with the bodily fluids, to assure that they have the ability to be protected,” Lee said.
The congresswoman said she supported the call for Obama to use his executive authority to set uniform Ebola procedures nationwide
National Nurses United called for better training and equipment.
“Even today, in the hospitals, nurses have not been trained on how to use this equipment and, in some hospitals, do not have this equipment,” said Melinda Markowitz, the union group's vice president.
Her organization blames sloppy procedures at the Dallas hospital that treated the first Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, who infected two nurses who treated him.
Markowitz said National Nurses United has been asking for better preparation since the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa in March.
“We have been going to the hospitals and saying, ‘This is happening in Africa, what are you doing to prepare the health care providers and the nurses if this should come to the United States?’ ” Markowitz said.
Markowitz recalled the response by hospitals: “ ‘Oh, we are prepared; we are prepared for any infection.’ And we know that is not true."
A recent National Nurses United survey showed that 85 percent of U.S. hospitals have inadequate Ebola training and many lack proper equipment and waste disposal systems.
Nurse Gwendolyn Agbatekwe, who works at a hospital in Austin, Texas, said it is unacceptable that the nurses in Dallas became infected while doing their job.
“I am grievously saddened by these two nurses contracting the Ebola virus and I know that they were doing the best that they could do to work with their patients,” Agbatekwe said.
Nurse Kelly Miller stressed the need for teamwork when using protective suits that become unbearably hot to wear for more than a half-hour.
She said at least two people are also needed to avoid dangerous mistakes.
“The reason you work in teams is to have the other person help you with the protocol to make sure you haven’t missed something,” Miller said.
The other matter that health care professionals said needs to be addressed is public education about Ebola, which Lee said could prevent unnecessary panic and help save lives.