VHHA Response to Letter from Senators Warner and Kaine on Ebola Preparedness

 

RICHMOND. We thank the Senators for their continued support of Virginia’s hospitals and health systems and their responses to emergency preparedness. Below is the VHHA response to the Senators request of October 17 asking for details on the work being done by Virginia’s hospitals and health systems to prepare for the potential of patients presenting in our hospitals with the Ebola virus. A copy of the letter from Senators Warner and Kaine appears at the end of this advisory.

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VHHA Letter:
October 27, 2014
The Honorable Mark R. Warner                     The Honorable Timothy M. Kaine
United States Senate                                       United States Senate
475 Russell Senate Office Building                388 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-4606                        Washington, D.C. 20510-4607

Dear Senators Warner and Kaine:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the efforts underway in Virginia’s hospitals and health systems to prepare for any potential cases of Ebola. I can assure you that the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) and our members are taking every step to work with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to ensure that our dedicated teams of physicians, nurses and staff have the knowledge and tools necessary to protect both themselves and the public should Ebola present in the Commonwealth. In fact, the Virginia Health Commissioner, Dr. Marissa Levine, recently met with the VHHA Board to discuss protocols and explore ways to further strengthen our collective preparedness efforts.

The Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) and our Regional Hospital Coordinating Centers are critical to these efforts. Through the regional coordinators, Virginia’s hospitals and health systems have been conducting exercises and sharing best practices from around both the state and the nation to assess their readiness to screen and treat Ebola patients. Additionally, hospitals have been re-evaluating and revising their infection control and waste management protocols, and hospital-based and regional supplies of personal protective equipment have been acquired. Now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its protocols for these issues, our hospitals and health systems are further revising their own protocols and modifying their training where needed.

Additionally, the Virginia Health Care Waste Management Cooperative (VHCWMC), a collaborative effort among VHHA members, has developed protocols and training programs related to the safe packaging and transportation of Ebola-related waste. VHCWMC is committed to providing medical waste disposal services to any hospital in Virginia with a confirmed case, regardless of whether not the hospital is a Cooperative member. Further, the VHHA and the Cooperative are working with the appropriate parties to resolve issues surrounding the stated unwillingness of some disposal sites to accept treated Ebola waste. Resolving this final step in the medical waste treatment process – landfill disposal of effectively treated material – may require the assistance of state and federal policy makers.

The VHHA is also conducting its own assessment in conjunction with our members of capacity and contingency plans at each hospital across the state. This information will be used to assist the VHHA Board as it works in concert with the VDH to develop a statewide plan for treating confirmed Ebola patients. Additionally, the VHHA is holding regular calls with our members to discuss ongoing developments, new protocols, and hospitals’ needs as we continue to prepare.

In conclusion, Virginia’s hospitals and health systems are taking every necessary precaution as we prepare for the possibility of future Ebola cases in the Commonwealth. As we continue these efforts, I would respectfully ask for your assistance in procuring any additional funding, resources, and supplies that our members identify as necessary to ensuring the safety or our employees and the public.

Please do not hesitate to contact me directly should you have any additional questions or concerns or wish to further discuss Virginia’s Ebola preparations.

Sincerely,
Sean T. Connaughton
President/CEO
pc: VHHA Board of Directors

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The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is an alliance of 110 hospitals and 36 health delivery systems that develops and advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth. Its vision is to achieve excellence in both health care and health.

October 17, 2014

Mr. Sean Connaughton
President and CEO
Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association
4200 Innslake Drive, Suite 203
Glen Allen, Virginia 23060

Dear Mr. Connaughton,

We write today about the national response to the Ebola virus, and the role of hospitals in Virginia in protecting both potential patients and our healthcare workforce. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released updated information on the Ebola virus and its impact on West Africa, including that the number of new cases could reach 10,000 per week by December. As you are well aware, due to the virulent nature of this disease, the WHO has declared the current Ebola epidemic a global health emergency of international concern.

Tragically, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died on October 8, 2014 while receiving care at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas. There are now confirmed reports that two healthcare workers at Texas Presbyterian Hospital who provided care for the index patient have tested positive for Ebola.

Hospitals and providers are the first line of defense for the public. While there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Virginia, it is important that all the hospitals in the Commonwealth are prepared to address any potential public health need.

On August 1, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released guidance titled, “Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Hospitalized Patients with Known or Suspected Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in U.S. Hospitals <http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/hcp/infection-prevention-and-control-recommendations.html>.” This information has continued to be updated with stricter guidelines. We hope that the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) is working with the Department of Health and Human Resources to make this information readily available to hospitals, and to work closely with providers to ensure they are implementing appropriate protocols in the event of a confirmed case of Ebola.

According to CDC, healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients. Hospitals must be educating and training staff on the potential symptoms of Ebola and on best practices for isolation, monitoring and treatment.

We want to understand how individual hospitals are preparing to educate and train the appropriate professionals on staff. In particular,

  • How is the VHHA preparing to disseminate health and safety information to hospitals? Has each hospital identified a leader on Ebola efforts and has that been communicated to appropriate state officials?
  • How are hospitals educating and training staff on appropriate infectious disease protocols? Specifically, is an adequate supply of protective gear available and are employees trained to use the equipment properly? Additionally, are safe infectious waste protocols in place? If there is not appropriate equipment, what are hospitals doing to ensure safety of health care workers?
  • Are hospitals asking for additional information or resources from the State or from Federal agencies, such as CDC, NIH or other federal agencies? Are there other resources that would assist public health officials and health workers in preparedness?

While the number of confirmed cases in the United States remains low, it is critical that hospitals and health professionals have the supplies, training and information they need to effectively identify and treat any patients who present symptoms of Ebola. In the event of an identified Ebola patient, hospitals and Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources must work together, along with federal partners, to engage in contact tracing and prevent transmission.

As international efforts continue to ensure that Ebola is managed and addressed in West Africa, it will be critical that frontline healthcare workers and hospitals in Virginia have the information and training they need to address any potential Ebola cases. We hope to work with you to address any concerns and serve as a resource for additional information or assistance hospitals may need from the federal government.
Sincerely,

Mark Warner            Tim Kaine