Federal and state health officials have designated 35 U.S. hospitals as Ebola treatment centers, a move that will increase by several times the number of beds available to treat future patients.
The hospitals are mostly clustered around the five airports where travelers from West Africa are being routed. About 80 percent of returning travelers from West Africa live within 200 miles of one of the hospitals, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which announced the news Wedn esday.
The five U.S. b airports where travelers from West Africa must land and be screened are New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, New Jersey’s Newark, Washington’s Dulles, Chicago’s O’Hare and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson.
The action is precautionary, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As long as Ebola is spreading in West Africa, we must prepare for the possibility of additional cases in the United States,” he said in a statement.
All of the designated hospitals were evaluated by the CDC’s Rapid Ebola Preparedness team, and staff were trained in infection control, use of personal protective equipment, and removal of waste from patient rooms. The CDC reviewed 50 hospitals in 15 states.
Health officials are also trying to identify a larger network of hospitals that would serve as Ebola assessment centers, capable of diagnosing the virus and treating patients for up to 96 hours until they can be safely transferred to specialized treatment hospitals.
The designation of special Ebola treatment centers represents a shift in the U.S. response to domestic Ebola cases. Over the summer, Dr. Frieden said any American hospital should be able to safely treat an Ebola patient.
But that message changed in the aftermath of the country’s first experience with an Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who fell ill shortly after arriving in the U.S.
Duncan was sent home from a Dallas emergency room in spite of his symptoms – including a 103 degree fever – and travel history. He infected two two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which is not on the new list. Duncan died Oct. 8. After his diagnosis, U.S. health officials released new guidelines stating that all hospitals should be able to diagnose and isolate someone with Ebola, but that infected patients should be treated in regional centers of excellence.
Expanded Ebola treatment capacity
Until this week’s announcement, only a handful of hospitals were considered ready to treat Ebola patients. The four U.S. hospitals that have specialized biocontainment units, built to safely handle the most dangerous infectious diseases — Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, Omaha’s Nebraska Medical Center, St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Mont., and the clinical center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. — have a total of 16 beds.
The actual number of beds for Ebola patients is actually only about half that many. Unlike typical hospital settings, where two patients are often assigned to one room, it’s not safe to have more than one Ebola patient per room. Treatment capacity is further limited by the build-up of hazardous medical waste materials, which must be regularly picked up and taken to a special disposal facility. Also, one of the four hospitals with biocontainment units — St. Patrick in Montana — is not taking Ebola patients.
The newly designated hospitals will increase the number of Ebola treatment beds from eight to 53. The Washington Post points out that almost all of the designated hospitals are major teaching hospitals with experience handling the most complex cases of disease.
Besides expanding treatment capacity, the U.S. has made progress in other areas, as well. Four months ago, only the CDC and the U.S. Armed Forces laboratory could test for Ebola. Now, 42 state and local laboratories are prepared to test for the virus, which can allow people to be treated more quickly.
Crisis still growing in West Africa
More than 17,000 people have been infected with Ebola in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the hardest-hit countries, and and 6,055 people in those countries have died, according to the World Health Organization. International groups have painted differing pictures of the West African outbreak this week.
The United Nations on Monday said that many of its interim goals for responding to the outbreak have been met, with 70 percent of burials now conducted in a safe way and nearly 70 percent of patients getting treatment in Guinea and Liberia. These targets were not met in Sierra Leone, yet the U.N. still gave a relatively optimistic assessment of the fight against Ebola.
In a starkly different assessment, the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders on Tuesday criticized the international response to Ebola as “too slow and patchy”. Although many countries have sent doctors or troops to West Africa, local African staff and aid groups have been left to do much of the hands-on medical care, Doctors Without Borders said in a written statement.
The 35 U. S. hospitals designated as capable of treating Ebola are:
• Kaiser Oakland Medical Center.
• Kaiser South Sacramento Medical Center.
• University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
• University of California San Francisco Medical Center.
• Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
• Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
• Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
• Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
• University of Chicago Medical Center.
• Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
• University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
• National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Bethesda, Md.
• Allina Health’s Unity Hospital, Fridley, Minn.
• Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, St. Paul.
• Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Mary’s Campus, Rochester, Minn.
• University of Minnesota Medical Center, West Bank Campus, Minneapolis.
• Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.
• North Shore System LIJ/Glen Cove Hospital, Glen Cove, N.Y.
• Montefiore Health System; New York City.
• New York-Presbyterian/Allen Hospital, New York City.
• NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation/HHC Bellevue Hospital Center; New York City.
• Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, N.J.
• The Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City.
• Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
• Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
• University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas
• Methodist Hospital System in collaboration with Parkland Hospital System and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Richardson, Texas
• University of Virginia Medical Center, Charlottesville.
• Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Richmond.
• Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
• Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin-Froedtert Hospital, Milwaukee.
• UW Health-University of Wisconsin Hospital, Madison, and the American Family Children’s Hospital, Madison.
• MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Washington, D.C.
• George Washington University Hospital, Washington D.C.