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Senators Questions Virginia's Ebola Preparedness

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent letters to Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services William Hazel and President and CEO of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) Sean Connaughton requesting information on what is being done to ensure Virginia hospitals and health professionals have the supplies, training and information they need to effectively identify and treat any patients who present symptoms of Ebola.

The Senators asked whether additional resources from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), or other federal agencies would help hospitals in the Commonwealth with preparedness efforts.

“Hospitals and providers are the first line of defense for the public, and Virginia is home to a robust public health infrastructure,” wrote Warner and Kaine in the letter to Connaughton. “While there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Virginia, it is important that the Commonwealth is fully prepared to address any potential public health need.”

In their letters, Warner and Kaine asked the two officials to clarify how the VHHA and HHS are preparing to disseminate health and safety information to hospitals and personnel and how hospitals are educating and training staff on appropriate infectious disease protocols.

“We were pleased to see Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine's testimony yesterday, and request details on how your department is making sure that all necessary information is readily available to hospitals, and how it is working with hospitals and providers to ensure they are fully trained and prepared in the event there is a case here,” Warner and Kaine wrote to Secretary Hazel.

In September, Kaine co-sponsored a resolution to recognize the current threat Ebola poses to West Africa and the potential threat the virus poses to other regions around the globe.

On October 3, Senator Warner sent a letter to Secretary Burwell and Secretary Johnson urging more aggressive action, including enhanced screenings at airports and better collaboration with state and local health departments. The Administration began these enhanced screenings at international gateway airports, including at Dulles, this week. Additionally, the President has designated a point person to be in charge of all federal efforts to improve coordination between agencies, as Senator Warner called for on Monday.

Full text of the letters can be found below:

October 17, 2014
The Honorable William Hazel
Secretary
Dept. of Health and Human Resources
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Secretary Hazel,

We write today about the national response to the Ebola virus, and Virginia's role in protecting both potential patients and the Commonwealth's healthcare workforce. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released updated information on the Ebola virus and its impact on West Africa, including that the number of new cases could reach 10,000 per week by December. As you are well aware, due to the virulent nature of this disease, the WHO has declared the current Ebola epidemic a global health emergency of international concern.

Tragically, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died on October 8, 2014 while receiving care at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas. There are now confirmed reports that two healthcare workers at Texas Presbyterian Hospital who provided care for the index patient have tested positive for Ebola.

Hospitals and providers are the first line of defense for the public, and Virginia is home to a robust public health infrastructure. While there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Virginia, it is important that the Commonwealth is fully prepared to address any potential public health need.

This preparation is critical in Virginia because Dulles International Airport is one of five identified hubs passengers who are coming in from Ebola-infected countries. Starting this week, Dulles will be conducting enhanced screening at the airport in collaboration with Customs and Border Protection and the Centers for Disease Control. One possible result of those screenings is that some passengers may need to be monitored for up to twenty-one days. It is our understanding that the Virginia Department of Health, along with local departments of health, will manage these extended monitoring programs, under guidance for provided by the CDC. We are interested in understanding what protocols you have established to conduct such monitoring, and how you intend to communicate with local departments of health along with the CDC and local hospitals.

Healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients along with the family and friends who are in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick. The importance of having strict protocols to deal with any potential patients is tantamount to ensuring successful containment of any potential case of infection. Thus, we are adamant that all healthcare partners should be taking actionable steps now to ensure that staff are educated and trained on the potential symptoms of Ebola and on best practices for isolation, monitoring and treatment.

We were pleased to see Health Commissioner Marissa J. Levine's testimony yesterday, and request details on how your department is making sure that all necessary information is readily available to hospitals, and how it is working with hospitals and providers to ensure they are fully trained and prepared in the event there is a case here.

In particular, we want to understand:

• How is the Department of Health working with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association to disseminate health and safety information to all hospitals and personnel? What role are the local departments of health playing?

• How are hospitals educating and training staff on appropriate infectious disease protocols? Specifically, are you monitoring whether facilities have adequate supplies of protective gear available and are employees trained to use equipment properly? Additionally, are safe infectious waste protocols in place?

• What additional information does your department or local hospitals need from CDC, NIH or other federal agencies? Are there other resources that would assist public health officials and health workers in preparedness?

While the number of confirmed cases in the United States remains low, it is critical that hospitals and health professionals have the supplies, training and information they need to effectively identify and treat any patients who present symptoms of Ebola. In the event of an identified Ebola patient, hospitals and the Department of Health and Human Resources must work together, along with federal partners, to engage in contact tracing and prevent transmission.

As international efforts continue to ensure that Ebola is managed and addressed in West Africa, it will be critical that frontline healthcare workers and hospitals in Virginia have the information and training they need to address any potential Ebola cases.

We hope to work with you to address any concerns and serve as a resource for additional information or assistance hospitals may need from the federal government.

Sincerely,

Mark Warner & Tim Kaine

October 17, 2014
Mr. Sean Connaughton
President and CEO
Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association
4200 Innslake Drive, Suite 203
Glen Allen, Virginia 23060

Dear Mr. Connaughton,

We write today about the national response to the Ebola virus, and the role of hospitals in Virginia in protecting both potential patients and our healthcare workforce. Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released updated information on the Ebola virus and its impact on West Africa, including that the number of new cases could reach 10,000 per week by December. As you are well aware, due to the virulent nature of this disease, the WHO has declared the current Ebola epidemic a global health emergency of international concern.

Tragically, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died on October 8, 2014 while receiving care at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas. There are now confirmed reports that two healthcare workers at Texas Presbyterian Hospital who provided care for the index patient have tested positive for Ebola.

Hospitals and providers are the first line of defense for the public. While there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Virginia, it is important that all the hospitals in the Commonwealth are prepared to address any potential public health need.

On August 1, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released guidance titled, “Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Hospitalized Patients with Known or Suspected Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever in U.S. Hospitals.” This information has continued to be updated with stricter guidelines. We hope that the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) is working with the Department of Health and Human Resources to make this information readily available to hospitals, and to work closely with providers to ensure they are implementing appropriate protocols in the event of a confirmed case of Ebola.

According to CDC, healthcare providers caring for Ebola patients and the family and friends in close contact with Ebola patients are at the highest risk of getting sick because they may come in contact with the blood or body fluids of sick patients. Hospitals must be educating and training staff on the potential symptoms of Ebola and on best practices for isolation, monitoring and treatment.

We want to understand how individual hospitals are preparing to educate and train the appropriate professionals on staff. In particular,

· How is the VHHA preparing to disseminate health and safety information to hospitals? Has each hospital identified a leader on Ebola efforts and has that been communicated to appropriate state officials?

· How are hospitals educating and training staff on appropriate infectious disease protocols? Specifically, is an adequate supply of protective gear available and are employees trained to use the equipment properly? Additionally, are safe infectious waste protocols in place? If there is not appropriate equipment, what are hospitals doing to ensure safety of health care workers?

· Are hospitals asking for additional information or resources from the State or from Federal agencies, such as CDC, NIH or other federal agencies? Are there other resources that would assist public health officials and health workers in preparedness?

While the number of confirmed cases in the United States remains low, it is critical that hospitals and health professionals have the supplies, training and information they need to effectively identify and treat any patients who present symptoms of Ebola. In the event of an identified Ebola patient, hospitals and Virginia's Department of Health and Human Resources must work together, along with federal partners, to engage in contact tracing and prevent transmission.

As international efforts continue to ensure that Ebola is managed and addressed in West Africa, it will be critical that frontline healthcare workers and hospitals in Virginia have the information and training they need to address any potential Ebola cases. We hope to work with you to address any concerns and serve as a resource for additional information or assistance hospitals may need from the federal government.

Sincerely,

Mark Warner & Tim Kaine

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