CEO: TRMC ‘ready’

Published 3:00 am Saturday, October 18, 2014

While the potential of an Ebola infection in Pike County is likely small, Troy Regional Medical Center is ready to respond if needed, administrators said.

“We have a plan in place, we have the equipment and we have been training and retraining,” said Teresa Grimes, CEO of the hospital. “I’m confident that today we could handle an Ebola patient if we needed to do so.”

That confidence is not something Grimes takes lightly. It comes, she said, as the result of extensive planning and preparedness on the part of the TRMC staff.

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“We have met literally every day for the past two weeks about this,” Grimes said Friday morning, detailing daily conference calls and webinars with the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the Alabama Hospital Association, among others.

A task force has refined and revisited the hospital’s emergency response plan, focusing on the three aspects of triaging a patient; activating a response team; and protecting the patients and the public. Staff have trained and retrained on procedures – from donning and doffing the “hazmat” suits to setting up a buddy system to assist each other. Equipment and materials have been installed to create a safe room within minutes, if necessary, in the emergency department. Intake personnel have been educated about how to screen and identify potential Ebola patients. And efforts to coordinate with other medical facilities, emergency response personnel, and the public at large have been ongoing, Grimes said.

“I really do feel good that, in this fluid situation, we are prepared to respond,” she said. “Of course, we feel like it’s very, very unlikely that we’re going to have these types of patients here, but if we do, we are ready.”

Grimes’s comments were during an early Friday interview, hours before news of a woman in Montgomery, who was being evaluated after complaining of Ebola-like symptoms.

But it was exactly that type of scenario that Grimes said the hospital was preparing to handle. “We’ve been in contact with the EMS professionals, who have been working on this for two weeks and who would likely be the first responders to a patient presenting symptoms,” she said. “We’ve also worked with our staff on identifying the risk potential.”

A risk assessment now used by all intake personnel at the hospital asks patients if they have traveled outside the U.S. within the past 30 days – more than the CDC recommend 21-day travel window – and prompts hospital personnel to provide masks and other responses if a patient indicates he or she has a fever, respiratory illness or other symptoms.

“We’re taking an abundance of caution,” Grimes said.

Amy Minor, chief nursing officer for TRMC, said the staff is focused on taking extra precautions, above and beyond the CDC recommendations. “We’re lucky, actually, because since 9-11 we have had (containment) suits and have been training on how to respond in case of chemical incident,” Minor said. “We’ve actually been training on using the CDC recommended hazmat suit with this added layer and precaution of a second suit – a type of hood – to provide even more protection to our staff.”

The donning and doffing of the suits presents the greatest risk for potential exposure for medical personnel, and Minor said as a response the hospital is training staff to work on a buddy system. “You can’t take these suits off by yourself, so we’ve been training on a buddy system to help our staff get out of the suit, if needed.”

Ultimately, Grimes said, any patient who presents and tests positive for Ebola would be stabilized and then likely transferred to another medical facility. But contingencies – such as where to house medical personnel who may choose to self-quarantine for 21 days after exposure to the patient – are all part of the hospital’s plan.

“The health and safety of every single patient and employee at our hospital is of utmost importance,” she said.