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Ebola measures aim to protect healthcare workers

Ontario's new measures developed with guidance from oh&s specialists


(Canadian OH&S News) — The Ontario government has announced new preventive measures to strengthen the province’s readiness to deal with the Ebola virus — measures that the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) supports.

The plans aim to enhance the safety of all residents, particularly healthcare professionals, in the event of infection. The provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care revealed the details in a press release on Oct. 17.

“The safety of the Ontario public, including our dedicated healthcare workers, is my top priority — and I am committed to doing everything necessary to protect their safety,” Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, said in an Oct. 17 statement. “I will continue to work in partnership with our healthcare providers, including our dedicated frontline healthcare workers, to enhance our ability to safely contain and treat any infectious illness.”

The measures, developed with guidance from oh&s specialists, include the following:
* Issuing a directive regarding Ebola-ready personal protective equipment (PPE), training requirements and procedures to hospitals;
* Increasing the quantity and availability of proper PPE, such as N95 protective respirators;
* Initiating a new Minister’s Advisory Table on Ebola Preparedness, which will include healthcare employees and other relevant workers, as well as an Ebola Command Table comprising healthcare authorities;
* Designating specific Ontario hospitals, including Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and the Ottawa Hospital, as referral facilities for Ebola cases; and
* Reserving properly outfitted ambulances to send potential Ebola cases to these hospitals.

Shortly after the Ministry’s announcement, the ONA stated on its website that it was “encouraged” by the government’s Ebola plans and “pleased” that oh&s standards were guiding the proposed measures. Vicki McKenna, ONA first vice-president, told COHSN that the union had been meeting with the government over the previous weeks to discuss and clarify the necessary measures.

“We believe that the risk is low. However, that doesn’t negate us being prepared,” said McKenna. “If it’s not Ebola, it could certainly be something else, and we can’t rest on our laurels.”

She cited the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) scare of 2003. “We learned some really tough lessons during SARS, and some of those lessons have not really come to fruition in regards to putting measures in place to protect healthcare workers.”

McKenna added that the ONA was stressing the repeated drilling of nurses on procedures, in order to make those procedures seem like second nature. “It’s important that people do exactly the proper procedure, so that they themselves don’t contaminate anything or get exposed when they don’t need to,” she explained. “This has to become something that will become a routine procedure. It’s really about practice.”

One example of a procedure that requires repeat drilling, McKenna said, is the simple donning and doffing of proper PPE, which she described as “cumbersome” and “difficult to get on and to get off properly.”

Although there have not yet been any confirmed cases of Ebola in Canada, 10 Ontario patients have been tested for possible infection; all tested negative. The province’s former Chief Medical Officer of Health alerted the health system to the possible risks of infection earlier this year, and Public Health Ontario has guidelines for protecting healthcare professionals on its website.

“The steps we are taking to update and enhance our readiness procedures, protocols and resources ensure the health system is prepared,” Dr. David Mowat, Ontario’s Interim Chief Medical Officer of Health, said in a statement.
McKenna noted that being on the alert for the spread of disease was especially important in the era of global travel, when people can be in another continent in only a few hours.

“So we have to be prepared, and we have to know what to do,” she said.