Administrators, nurses clash over whether UC hospitals equipped to handle Ebola

UCSF/Courtesy

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Update 10/28/14: This article has been updated to reflect further information from the University of California.

The UC Office of the President announced Friday that all UC medical centers have been designated as priority hospitals for Ebola patients, but many nurses feel the university’s medical centers are inadequately prepared to handle the virus.

The five facilities — located in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Irvine and Davis — can accept Ebola patients and will receive help from the California Department of Public Health in obtaining protective equipment and updated information. There are no reported cases of Ebola patients in California, yet nurses feel they have not been trained and do not have the necessary materials to accommodate an infected person.

UC spokesperson Brooke Converse said the facilities’ preparations had been ongoing and they were chosen because they either employ level-one specialists or operate as level-one trauma centers, which include a range of specialists and are equipped to provide in-house care 24 hours per day.

“The centers have the equipment and competence to handle the virus,” said Arthur Reingold, professor and head of epidemiology at the campus school of public health. “As part of a public university, they have a natural duty to the citizens of California.”

In a letter to UC officials, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, thanked the university and praised its “leadership in addressing threats to the public’s health.”

Yet some nurses said they did not know that the facilities would be designated Ebola centers until the announcement and expressed concern about the level of preparations.

“I’m scared because we’re not ready,” said Erin Carrera, a nurse at the UCSF Medical Center. “I hope that we can and will be ready, but today we are not — we don’t have the staff, training, equipment, and we don’t even have an isolation unit.”

She said nurses were not aware of any preparations and only received limited training on Ebola through an online module. Currently, there is no protocol for managing Ebola-positive patients, and no process has been implemented to screen people who may have been in contact with the virus, she added.

Carrera added that bedside nurses must be included in the policy decision-making process.

“UC hospitals continue to do everything possible to ensure that our nurses, doctors and other health care workers are prepared for any eventuality related to Ebola,” said John Stobo, the UC system’s senior vice president for health sciences and services in a statement released Tuesday. “We welcome constructive input from nurses, physicians and other staff as to how we might improve our preparedness.”

Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not set a clear standard for protective gear that can be applied everywhere.

“(Hospitals) can pick and choose their equipment, which is not a standard and will not work for health care workers,” said Burger, also president of the California Nurses Association. “Employers want to put nurses in little outfits that don’t protect them, because it’s cheaper.”

The California Nurses Association and National Nurses United, which represents 12,000 nurses in the five UC medical centers, plan to protest the alleged lack of preparations Tuesday at UCSF and UC San Diego and Wednesday at UCLA.

Contact Frances Fitzgerald at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.