Bellevue was ready for Ebola, administrator says

Medical Director Dr. Nathan Link speaks at a Bellevue Community Advisory Board meeting with Associate Director for Community Relations Melissa Henry (left) and Associate Executive Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations Evelyn Hernandez. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Medical Director Dr. Nathan Link speaks at a Bellevue Community Advisory Board meeting with Associate Director for Community Relations Melissa Henry (left) and Associate Executive Director of Public Affairs and Community Relations Evelyn Hernandez. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Almost exactly 24 hours after Dr. Nathan Link provided updates on Ebola at the hospital’s monthly Community Advisory Board meeting last Wednesday, Bellevue’s isolation facilities were put to the test when Harlem resident Dr. Craig Spencer was admitted last Thursday evening with a confirmed case of the virus.

At the meeting the night before Spencer’s admittance, Link expressed confidence that the hospital was prepared as the city’s authorized center for treating Ebola, noting that the CDC had been there earlier that day and gave high praise to their preparations.

“We’ve been working on this since late July and preparations are complete,” Link assured the CAB members. At the time of the meeting, Link emphasized that there had not yet been a confirmed case of the virus in any of the patients who came in with suspicious symptoms and up until that point, there had been 30 people who came in with possible Ebola symptoms. “In all of these cases, Ebola was ruled out and they were released,” Link said. “Two patients from other facilities were brought to Bellevue, treated in isolation and both were discharged. We’ve had a number of opportunities to practice.”

When a committee member expressed anxiety about the situation with healthcare workers in Dallas, Link noted that Bellevue staff and administrators were learning from the missteps in Texas and had the proper equipment and training to deal with a confirmed case of the virus.

“We have state of the art equipment for the staff,” Link said. “We’ve used recommendations from Emory University Hospital and the University of  Nebraska  Medical Center  and biosafety experts from NYU. We’ve purchased equipment that was recommended and masks with a higher standard of protection. We have the same level of protection that Emory and Nebraska have in their facilities that have successfully treated patients with Ebola. The patients treated at those facilities have survived and are all safe.”

Link added that the isolation unit in 7W had specialized equipment with ICU-level care, including dialysis available in the room so patients don’t have to be brought anywhere else and a separate lab available so tests can be done right in the unit. “The patients are completely sealed off with no possibility of mixing,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal also reported last Friday that Bellevue has actually long been prepared for such an event, as the hospital already had an isolation ward that was put in place in the 1990s to deal with the AIDS crisis. The unit was developed when health officials were struggling to control the increasing number of tuberculosis cases driven by the rise of HIV, which lowered resistance to TB in infected adults. The ward has special anterooms, as well as plumbing and ventilation separate from the rest of the hospital, which became crucial in the city’s successful fight against TB.

Since Spencer was admitted to Bellevue, there was an additional scare with a five-year-old Bronx resident who had recently returned from Guinea and was also exhibiting the tell-tale symptoms of the illness, including a fever. He was tested on Monday and the result was negative. The hospital conducted an additional test “out of an abundance of caution” and kept the boy for observation. He was found to have a respiratory infection, which can have similar symptoms of Ebola. He was removed from isolation on Tuesday and remained at the hospital for treatment of the infection.

Bellevue reported that Spencer, who had also recently returned from Guinea, remained in serious but stable condition as of Tuesday.

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