Seattle Nurses, Hospital Housekeepers Feel Unprepared For Ebola | KUOW News and Information

Seattle Nurses, Hospital Housekeepers Feel Unprepared For Ebola

Oct 15, 2014

Swedish Medical Center housekeeper Carmencita Smith.
Credit KUOW Photo/John Ryan

If today is a typical day in the United States, about 200 hospital patients will die with an infection they picked up while they were in the hospital.

Only one patient in the United States has ever died of Ebola, and many deadly diseases spread much more easily than Ebola.

Still, Ebola anxiety is widespread, even among health care workers.

A union that represents hospital housekeepers in Washington said they’re not being given the right tools to protect themselves from deadly diseases like Ebola.

“We never have training about the Ebola, how to protect yourself,” said Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW member and Swedish Medical Center housekeeper Carmencita Smith.

Union officials said housekeepers at many hospitals in Washington complain they haven’t been properly trained or equipped. Their work can bring them in contact with bodily fluids and medical waste.

Smith said she wants better equipment than she has now.

“We [are] using right now only the gown, only the mask and gloves. That’s it, and it’s not enough for that Ebola,” Smith said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends housekeepers wear those items as well as eye protection, with shoe covers as an option. Swedish officials said they are following CDC guidelines for protective gear with any patients that show risk factors for carrying Ebola.

But Michael Myint, vice president for patient safety at Swedish, said housekeepers and other staff at Swedish are already well-trained in how to fight highly infectious diseases.

“This is not something new to our teams,” Myint said. “These are processes and procedures that we’ve been using at various levels for various diseases on an ongoing basis.”

As for nurses and other health providers, the CDC also recommends staff be well-trained on how to take off gear without contaminating themselves.

“The order they put on and take off is really important to minimize cross-contamination,” Myint said.

He said Swedish’s approach is evolving rapidly as new information comes in from the CDC. On Tuesday, the CDC provided new directions on how to transport potentially contaminated medical waste before it is incinerated.

Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington state's chief epidemiologist, said he's heard many concerns from Washington workers since a Dallas nurse caring for an Ebola patient became the first transmitted case in the U.S. 

Lindquist said the state Department of Health will meet with state health care associations to ensure all facilities have the necessary resources.

For Linquist, this presents a greater dilemma: “How do we make every provider on the front line comfortable that they have the training to do it, and that they have the equipment to make feel comfortable to take care of an Ebola patient?”