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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Child falls down Bridal Veil Falls near Chilliwack, crews on scene

An 11-year-old boy fell over the falls about 25 to 30 feet and has suffered a head injury

Once-in-a-lifetime comet photographed soaring over Abbotsford

Photographer Randy Small captures Comet NEOWISE in early-morning sky

Man shot dead in east Abbotsford suburbs

Integrated Homicide Investigative Team called to investigate

Popular retired UFV therapy dog passes away

Mac the Therapy Dog consoled countless students and staff, as well as wildfire victims

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Fraser Valley loses the Keith Wilson Waver as Ron Hupper passes away

Hupper brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of people traveling Chilliwack’s Keith Wilson Road

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

Woman sexually assaulted, robbed near Surrey SkyTrain station: RCMP

Police say the incident happened July 10, just after 11 p.m. near King George SkyTrain station

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Four-vehicle collision snarls eastbound highway traffic in Fraser Valley

Collision west of Lickman Road on Highway 1 includes three vehicles plus motorcycle

Most Read