Local Catholic hospitals have infectious disease protocols for the possibility of managing both suspected and confirmed Ebola patients and are providing ongoing training and safety precautions to protect healthcare workers, say area hospital officials.

“Believe it or not, healthcare workers in the United States are trained and they have the equipment, but they need refresher training and education about this particular Ebola virus,” said Angela Vassallo, director of infection prevention/epidemiology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. “What’s important is how the virus is transmitted. Once people understand [that it’s not spread in the air but through body fluids such as blood, spit and vomit], then it’s a matter of having knowledge and confidence.”

According to Vassallo, Providence Health & Services is currently conducting intensive training for healthcare workers “housewide” (including at local inpatient Providence hospitals in Burbank, Mission Hills, San Pedro, Santa Monica, Tarzana and Torrance) to correctly and carefully put on and take off impermeable personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gowns, gloves, face shields and foot covers.

She noted that Providence hospitals have increased the use and practice of screening measures to identify potential cases of infectious disease, with Emergency Department personnel asking specific travel history questions of patients. Currently, Providence Health & Services preparations include isolating any suspected, rule-out or confirmed Ebola cases to critical care rooms or units with staff dedicated to treating the patient.

St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, one of eight area hospitals in the Dignity Health system, is closely monitoring developments regarding the Ebola viral disease, officials said in a statement to The Tidings Oct. 20.

“The situation remains fluid and we are in regular contact with local and state authorities, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to provide our staff with up-to-date information and recommendations as they are released,” the statement said.

Dignity Health has established a system-wide Ebola Advisory Committee that is working with St. Mary Medical Center, and every hospital in the Dignity Health network, “to ensure we have the necessary supplies and are prepared to identify, isolate, and treat any potential patient who may present,” the statement said.

“We are taking this matter very seriously. As always, the safety of our employees, physicians, and patients are our priority. St. Mary Medical Center manages infectious disease on a regular basis and maintains isolation rooms for this purpose. Additional and ongoing training is underway on the proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, as well as on the protocols for the identification, testing, and treatment of a patient with Ebola-like symptoms.”

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is expected to continue over the next few months. This week, leaders of The California Nurses Assn. and National Nurses United asked state regulators to formally adopt what they called “optimal safety standards” (including requirements for Hazmat suits and accelerated hands-on training programs), in response to the Ebola threat, noting the recent Ebola infection of two nurses in Texas after treating patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died from Ebola Oct. 8 after being infected in Liberia.

The CDC this week tightened previous infection control guidance for healthcare workers caring for patients with Ebola, to ensure the absence of ambiguity. The guidance focuses on specific personal protective equipment healthcare workers should use and offers detailed step by step instructions for how to put the equipment on and take it off safely.