Tag Archives: Nurses

Flu or Ebola?

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The following blog is written by a emergency room doctor who is comparing today’s Ebola epidemic to the Flu epidemic of 1918. It does make sense that since flu season is upon us that we are more than likely to get the flu than Ebola. Flu is contact and airborne, so that quick trip to Walmart could be the time that someone sneezed into their hands and then grabbed hold of that shopping cart. Disgusting isn’t it.

https://shirley-mclain.net/2013/01/12/are-you-sharing/ This link takes you to a previous blog I did a year or so ago on the flu called “Are You Shring”. Take a look at it. It might just save you a lot of misery. Shirley

emergency

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I’ve been walking the earth for a half a century, so I’m sure I’ve picked up a bit along the way. I know the Gettysburg Address by heart. I can recite all the presidents. I can taste the difference between Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, and I’m fairly certain I can tell you the starting lineup from the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. But if you ask me if I’m worried about Ebola, if our hospital is ready or if our nurses and staff are up to the challenge, chances are you will probably hear me say this:

“Hell if I know.”

I have been practicing emergency medicine for more than 20 years and I’ve seen close to 100,000 patients. I’ve written a few books, published some papers, lectured a bunch of times, pissed off about 10,000 soccer moms when I wrote an article telling them their kids weren’t playing the pros. I once even testified in front of a congressional sub-committee on hospital disaster preparedness. I’m still beating myself for at least not stealing a pen, but it was part of my duty as the physician director of mass casualty preparedness for our emergency department.

So you would think if anyone in the emergency department trenches would be versed as to how this Ebola scare will unfold, if it will spread, what to expect, how to diagnose, screen, protect and treat, then I suppose it would be me.

If an investigator for Joint Commissions or some other oversight agency, a member of the press or a committee trying to ensure CDC compliance were to pull me aside to spot check my Ebola acumen, they’d be satisfied with my answers and I’d leave them feeling like they had done due diligence as an administrator.

“Dr. Profeta, do we have enough protective stuff and does everyone know how to use it?”
“Yup.”
“Are the screening plans in place?”
“Yeah, ya betcha.”
“Is the staff versed in transmission and spread of Ebola?”
“Darn tooten.”
“Has everyone read all the CDC and hospital communiqués regarding Ebola?”
“Sure have.”
“Have you practiced the drills in the ER in case we have someone show up with a possible exposure?”
“More times than Lois Lerner has hit her hard drive with a hammer.”

But if they were to ask me if there are any other issues they should be aware of, I’ll just stare with round blank eyes and keep my mouth shut until the right question is asked; the question they will pretend does not exist.

“Dr. Profeta, will they – the staff, you, your partners – show up? “
“That, I don’t know.”

Some years ago when I first started in practice, a very large hospital in our area was having trouble getting patients rapidly admitted from the ER to the floors. This resulted in a tremendous backlog of patients and extreme ER overcrowding. This naturally increased patient wait times and directly impacted the health of those coming to the ER. So, naturally, the hospital system formed a committee and hired consultants. They looked at every single variable: time to laboratory, time to X-ray, nursing changeover, bed request time and on and on and on. Do you know what they found? The roadblock in the movement of patients through this major medical system was housekeeping. Think about that. Housekeepers, traditionally the lowest paid and least-skilled division of employment of the hospital, were responsible for the movement and throughput of patients more than any other factor.

If the rooms on the floor were not cleaned fast enough, then no patients could move from the ER to the floor, and no patients from the waiting room to the ER. ER wait times rose and patient care suffered. Housekeepers handcuffed the entire system, and not because they were lazy. The regulations, protocols and procedures put into place to clean a room are so extensive that rapid room turnover was next to impossible with the current staffing model. That stuck with me. What is the rate-limiting step in a mass casualty scenario or massive patient influx that would handcuff us? Where will all the preparedness collapse? What is the leaking O-ring? What am I afraid will fail?

As I alluded to a bit earlier, I appeared before members of Congress who were investigating Midwest medical centers and regional hospital preparedness for a mass casualty event. The focus was on our readiness should a major earthquake hit the Midwest. The congressmen wanted to know if we had the capacity to mobilize our staff; they asked what assistance we needed. Toward the end of the discussion, they asked each of us what we were most afraid of. The responses were typical answers you would give to a member of Congress if you were seeking money (not having enough resources, not enough congressional or governmental support, not having enough staff or equipment or infrastructure, etc.)

When they got to me, asking what I worried about, I simply said: “The flu.”

Now, flash forward. I wonder if what I really meant to say was “Ebola.”
IV push
When it comes to our ER and our ability to provide the best care during the worst extremes, I have no doubt we can mobilize our hospital to care for hundreds and hundreds of seriously injured patients. We have modeled our Emergency Department response to a mass-casualty incident in much the way Israeli hospitals have structured their programs. (As a side note, Israel is light years ahead of us in terms of all mass casualty – chemical, biological, environmental, mad-made – preparedness.) Specifically, we model our plan after Western Galilee hospital on the border of Israel and Lebanon. This is a large, major, modern-day medical center under constant threat from Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon. They train and drill with a level of involvement, passion and commitment that exceeds anything we can muster.

The staff at my hospital in Indianapolis, however, has bought into it and I truly believe that there is no ER in Indiana, and few in the Midwest, that have a better plan in place. We also gained a better understanding of the type of injuries we would see in each scenario. More specifically, we wanted to know from a pure number standpoint how many patients would have to go to the operating room the minute they hit the door, how many would need to be on ventilators and how many would need emergent life-saving intervention. Fortunately, and not so fortunately, the proliferation of research in this area has provided plenty of hard data well documented in the literature. Ultimately, all things being equal, the data seems to indicate a suicide type bomb loaded with ball bearings or other projectiles placed in a crowded area will result in the largest number of patients requiring immediate, emergent and life-saving intervention. While a disaster like a major earthquake will result in far more fatalities, far less people will require absolute immediate operative or life-saving intervention. All we really need to know is, what type of event, how many patients, and it’s pretty easy to calculate what to expect from an acuity standpoint. In the ER, it isn’t the total number of patients that concerns us, it’s the number we get that will die if not treated in minutes or a few hours. The rest we have no problem letting wait.

Ultimately, though, what I am getting at is that the trauma from a major incident like an earthquake or terrorist attack is very predictable. All you really need to know is the type of event and the numbers and you almost immediately have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

But a real bad flu?

There is no way you can prepare for it. The goal should be to protect your hospital from it.

We have seen influenza pandemics before, the most notable being the Spanish flu of 1918. Researchers estimate between 20 and 100 million peopled died from this strain of flu. What was even more concerning was the number of deaths that occurred in previously healthy people. Each year in the United States, about 30,000-40,000 deaths and 200,0000 hospitalizations can be attributed in part to influenza. Most deaths are in the elderly with pre-existing serious health problems. The Spanish flu of 1918 was different. It killed the healthy, able bodied. It unleashed an incredible degree of viral savagery with an infection rate of nearly 50 percent. It was a biological holocaust.
Field Hospital
Doctors and nurses treat flu patients lying on cots and in outdoor tents at a hospital camp during the influenza epidemic of 1918. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Thus my biggest fear has always been a strain of flu that is highly contagious with a high mortality rate. The Spanish-flu mortality rate of 1918 was 2 to 5 percent. Ebola has a 20 to 90 percent mortality rate, but it fortunately is not quite as contagious as Influenza. However, I still keep going back to flu and envisioning an epidemic of the Spanish type that will quickly fill all our inpatient beds, every ICU bed, every ventilator, every outpatient bed, every cot, gurney and chair in the ER and in all the waiting rooms. I’m afraid that a flu virus this aggressive will bring five dying flu victims to our ER each day and dozens more with a real possibility of dying.

This would occur on top of a department that is always operating at capacity and drowning in documentation and electronic medical record bureaucracy. After 30 days in our ER, nearly 150 people will have died, providers will be physically and mentally spent and morale will be at below-despair levels. Multiply it by 20 or so other hospitals in the area and now we are talking about 3,000 members of our community dead in only a single month. The obituary pages of the local paper will be thicker than the advertising section the day after Thanksgiving. Expand that number statewide and nationwide and the numbers become so immense they aren’t even real.

Now imagine a realistic scenario in which the flu vaccine only provides immunity to 50 percent of the recipients. That means that half of our ER staff who are seeing all these patients will have little protection, outside of gowns, masks, and gloves, against a virus that is spread primarily though coughing, sneezing and saliva. Simply put, some of us in the trenches in damn near every ER in America will almost certainly die. It could be me, it could be any one of my partners, colleagues and co-workers and it could be one of our children or a spouse who gets infected when one of us comes home thinking the headache and fatigue they are feeling is simply exhaustion from the workload of the day. Can you picture it?

Now imagine that huge numbers of hospital staff – from doctors to housekeepers, from food services to registration, from security and parking to transportation will decide not show up. They will call in sick or simply just say: “No, I’m not coming to work today.” In just a few days, human waste, debris, soiled linens, the sick, the dying and the bodies will pile up. We will be overwhelmed and unable to offer much in the way of assistance because the labor-intensive protocols that allow us to safely care for even one patient are just too exhausting. These procedures are barely repeatable more than once or twice of day, and fraught with so many steps and potential for mistake that it becomes too physically and emotionally taxing for the staff to do … so they simply wont show up.

And I am not sure I will, either.

I love emergency medicine. I love helping people and saving lives and I think I’m pretty good at it, but I am also a person and I have a wife and three children that I love and want to see grow up. I also am keenly aware that not a damn thing I do will have any real impact on the survivability of a patient with either the Spanish flu or Ebola. Fluids, rest and prayer is about all there is to offer. There is an old adage that says a hospital is no place for a sick person. I think whoever first said that had Spanish flu and Ebola in mind.

So we drill and we prepare and we post placards and do screening but no one is asking why in the hell are they coming to us in the first place? Fluids and rest can be provided anywhere: an empty warehouse or a huge tent in the middle of farmland. Why would we not just take the care to them in the form of special traveling Ebola-mobiles that triage and treat the patients at home? Why can we deliver the mail, pickup the garbage and recyclables at damn near every house in America, but we can’t pull up a retrofitted UPS van, drop off a mid-level provider in a hazmat gown, let them do an assessment, draw some blood, drop off cans of rehydrating formula to their doors, clean linen, biohazard bags, gowns and gloves for family members, slap a warning sticker on the front door, tell them you will stop by tomorrow and move on to some other location? I know I sound crass, perhaps like I don’t really have sympathy for these very ill patients. This could not be further from the truth. I’m just kind of angry. I know there is a better way than risking the infrastructure of a medical center for the sake of a few patients that will either do OK at home with simple supportive care or die no matter what care I provide. We’ve had years to prepare for this, we’ve hung all our hopes on a vaccine and not nearly enough thought on containment should a vaccine fail.

Today’s Ebola is tomorrow’s Spanish flu. We’ve had nearly a hundred years to get ready and the best we can come up with is plastic suits, double gloves, respirators, and masks. The battleground of this problem can’t be in the hospital. It is unwinnable in our emergency rooms.

I think I might just call in sick.

Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s God.

Commentary on Long Term Care Part 2

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Facility staff are overworked and underpaid for what they do.  That is how the system is set up and will continue to be until something changes.  I’ve got ahead of myself. I was talking about staffing.  Some states do not require a particular number of staff to take care of the patients.  Some states require a minimum.

Back in time when I was working in LTC, Oklahoma required one to seven direct care staff to provide care to the residents on day shift.  This number counted the LPN giving the medications and providing treatments.  It also counted the activity director as providing direct care.  I always felt this was very deceptive.  The CNA’s on the floor where the ones who were bathing, feeding, dressing, walking, cleaning changing, taking to the bathroom and just doing whatever the person could not do for themselves.  The number of CNA’s decreased with each shift.  If you had four people on day shift providing care on one wing, that would go down to two on a wing and then for night shift it could go down even further.

For some reason, the thinking is there is not as much to do on the evening and night shifts. That  is not entirely true.  You still have to do the care, feed the patient, problem solve, ect.  I think you can see my point.

The facilities have people who call in sick, without thinking of the problems it will cause. You also have people who are so dedicated or need the money so badly, they come to work when they should have stayed home.  That in itself can cause problems.  Rampant virus illness is not pleasant for anyone, and it can go through a nursing facility quickly.  Care should be taken, family or staff if you are sick, stay home.

It is not easy finding staff to work when someone calls in.  Usually some overworked CNA, who needs more money will volunteer.  It is not uncommon for the caregivers to work more because of the low wages they receive.  When someone is tired, they can’t give their best, even though everything in them says they are.

States that do not have mandatory staffing use the premise that a facility must provide enough staff to care for the patients.  This is well and good, sort of.  You can have five on the floor caring for ten patients.  You would think all the care would be done, and everything would be wonderful.  It could be, only two of those people are really working.  They bust their behinds
getting all the work done while the other three take smoke breaks outside, hide, look busy doing something else, but not really accomplishing anything.  So there is the dilemma.

Unfortunately, I have been in facilities that consistently ran short of staff to provide care to the patients.  During the three days of survey, they would bring in staff from sister facilities to really make it look good.  The survey team knew what was going on but nothing could be done about it.  We would hear statements from patients such as “I am really glad you’re here, we have so
much more staff today than we usually do. Another might say, my call light is sure being answered quickly today.”  I always felt the difference I made in patient lives were the three days I was there doing a survey.  I think it is a very sad thing not to be able
to completely trust the care that is given to some of our geriatric population.

The general public has no idea how many restrictions are really placed on surveyors that go into a facility.  We all started the job thinking we were really going to make a difference in people’s lives. Those money hungry cooperation’s that provide poor care, because they are trying to get more of those sacred dollars are going to be shut down.

Nope, that is not the reality.  The federal government has a very large book of regulations for LTC and what you can and can’t do.  It is almost impossible to shut a home down.  It can be done, but it takes a great deal of time, effort and money that states do not have.

Then you have to consider the patients in these homes. Where are they going to go?  In some areas they may be moved fifty miles away before a facility can be found that will accept them.  If they have family that visits them, what happens if they don’t have the transportation or resources to get to where the patient is located.  Families can’t take care of mom and dad like
they use to because of being scattered across the country, or everyone is working trying to survive.  So where does that leave the patients?

The survey process itself is unannounced.  The facilities do not know exactly when the survey team will show up.  What they do
know is, a three month time frame it could happen in.  The tension can be felt in a home when it is getting close to survey time.  It has happened that a survey team will check into a motel and the facility will know the survey team is in town.

Surveyor’s are not suppose to talk about their schedules.  It could mean their job if it is proven they let a facility know when their survey is going to take place.  If a town has several facilities, you could go into a home to do a complaint and every facility in town will know you are there.

As soon as a team walks into a building, fresh drinking water starts being put out, and call lights put within reach of the
patient.  You can see the activity of preparing for surveyor’s beginning.  If it wasn’t so sad it would be comical.