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Staff 'aggressively' trained to treat Ebola, says North Shore-LIJ medical chief

Joe Martino, emergency operations coordinator at North Shore-LIJ,

Joe Martino, emergency operations coordinator at North Shore-LIJ, demonstrates how to properly use a bio suit when dealing with potential Ebola patients on Oct. 13, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System has been "aggressively training" its 6,000 front-line responders to identify and treat any potential Ebola-infected patient, its chief medical officer told the Long Island Regional Planning Council Tuesday.

"If you were to call up our facilities to request an appointment, no matter what you would call about, you would be asked about travel, if you have a fever," said Dr. David Battinelli, North Shore-LIJ's medical chief, alluding to the risk factors of the Ebola virus.

Three West African nations -- Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -- have had severe outbreaks. Fever is a significant early symptom of the illness.

"We don't want patients who could be possibly infected coming in, realizing at the current time that this risk right now remains extremely low, but we're getting prepared," said Battinelli, who also is dean for education at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

Referring to the protective gear that medical personnel need at various stages of a suspected or confirmed Ebola case, Battinelli said: "It is a big deal to adequately prepare and teach people about Level 1, about Level 2, about Level 3, to develop the right team to be able to work within Level 3 equipment, and make sure that every one of the portals, whether it be ambulatory or urgent care centers or our hospitals, are prepared on the front line."

He said the medical center has "trained everyone, from our valets to the security guards, all front-line personnel" and has conducted "numerous exercises and drills."

For instance, Battinelli said, officials have sent staff posing as patients -- he called them "secret shoppers" -- to various North Shore-LIJ facilities over the past three weeks to test workers' adherence to policies. "We're well over 95 percent successful," he said.

The hospital also is developing a "clinical rapid response team" of providers who would "descend on any facility" if an Ebola-infected patient arrived, Battinelli said.

Hospitals with negative-pressure isolation units, such as those at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, could handle a patient with Ebola. Stony Brook University Hospital would be another.

Battinelli said practices have been put in place detailing when hospital staff are to wear various levels of personal protective equipment -- Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, the last a full hazmat suit outfitted with a respiratory apparatus.

Staffers also have been taught the proper way to put on the gear and, critically, how to remove it without coming in contact with infectious secretions, he said.

As for the situation in Dallas, where two nurses contracted Ebola from an infected patient who subsequently died, Battinelli said in response to a question: "Most of us believe they were not using the right equipment and protocols because of inexperience."

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