Officials Partner On Strategy For Handling Possible Ebola Cases

BERLIN — Although no Ebola cases have been reported in Maryland, local, state and federal officials this week were coordinating their efforts in preparation for a potential positive result across the state including the Lower Shore.

As the concern about a possible Ebola outbreak in the U.S. piqued this week, state and local officials were planning for a potential positive case in Maryland. Locally, the Worcester County Health Department is coordinating preparation efforts with Atlantic General Hospital, the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in advance of a potential positive case in the region. AGH is taking a proactive stance, according to a statement released by the hospital this week.

“Atlantic General Hospital follows protocols established in conjunction with the Worcester County Health Department to screen for Ebola and isolate potential infection to protect the health and safety of our patients, our healthcare workers and our community,” the hospital’s statement reads. “These steps follow guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The Worcester County Health Department is also engaged in a two-pronged effort to allay fears locally while making preparations for a potential positive case.

“The Worcester County Health Department recognizes that the public is concerned about the current outbreak of Ebola in the West African region and that cases have arisen in the United States,” the statement reads. “We are working in partnership with Atlantic General Hospital, local health care providers, Worcester County Emergency Management and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to respond in the event there is ever a suspected case of Ebola in Worcester County.”

While the chance of an Ebola case in Worcester County or anywhere on the Lower Shore remains remote, the Worcester County Health Department is taking the appropriate proactive measures to ensure it is prepared. Among the steps implemented by the county health department is the creation of a 24/7 Case Investigation and Response Team in order to investigate and monitor any potential Ebola cases. The response team will assure that appropriate isolation is in place when needed.

The county health department is also training on-call staff to assure an appropriate response to any Ebola-related calls they may receive. The department is also in the process of assessing local, state and national resources for support should it be needed, and is also coordinating with local Fire/EMS and law enforcement staff to assure local responders have the appropriate equipment and are trained in its use. The department is also training appropriate staff in proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use and is preparing quarantine procedures.

Meanwhile, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced on Thursday that Maryland health and hospital officials have agreed on a coordinated strategy for caring for potential Ebola patients. To date, no cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in the state, but officials are preparing a strategy for a potential case in the future.

Under the strategy, all hospital emergency departments in the state will continue to be prepared to evaluate patients suspected of having Ebola. Should a case of Ebola be confirmed in Maryland, the patient would be treated at one of three designated hospitals if no federal facility is available. Among the three hospitals designated in Maryland to accept and care for Ebola patients as Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, the University of Maryland Medical Center also in Baltimore and the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

“Maryland has the best medical facilities anywhere in the world,” said O’Malley. “We are working closely with our federal partners and with hospital officials to be as prepared as we can be.”

DHMH officials agreed designated the three hospitals and concentrating doctors and nurses with the best training and experience is an appropriate strategy for Maryland.

“This consolidated, coordinated response provides the best opportunity to treat Ebola patients successfully and prevent the disease from spreading further should we have any cases in Maryland,” said DHMH Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein.

According to the details of the strategy, all Maryland hospitals, including AGH and PRMC for example, will screen patients to identify those who potentially have Ebola, will isolate any potential cases and will work with the state’s public health laboratory to quickly confirm whether Ebola is present. If a case is confirmed, DHMH will work with the CDC to determine whether a federal facility is available to treat the patient. If a federal facility is not available, then DHMH will coordinate with the three health systems in Maryland to determine where to transfer the patient for care.