Since the Ebola scare has hit the U.S., LifeNet emergency ambulance services has established new protocol to screen for and respond appropriately to possible Ebola patients.
LifeNet Operations Manager for Red River County, Clifton Brown, serves on that Ebola strike team, the only member of the volunteer team not from Texarkana, where LifeNet is based.
Brown has been with LifeNet in Clarksville for 22 years. He trained with the new strike team last month, and says the team is ready to work and recognize any prospective Ebola cases the service may be called on to respond to. He said, with flu season around the corner, it’s important to distinguish flu from Ebola as soon as the call comes in.
“LifeNet has an infectious control policy such that when someone calls in with flu-like symptoms, the dispatchers ask key questions. It’s a pretty good plan,” Brown said, “and is evolving constantly.
“When a dispatcher takes a call – after hearing the symptoms of fever, headache, intestinal problems, they are to ask if the patient has been out of the country. If the answer to that question is yes, then the dispatcher asks if they have been to any of the high-risk areas like West Africa where Ebola has reached epidemic proportions,” Brown said.
“If the answer is yes, the ambulance crew responding is told to stage near the residence, but to not go into the residence.”
That’s when the Ebola strike team will be called to respond. There is one ambulance based in Texarkana and equipped with the safety suits, supplies and paraphernalia to treat Ebola patients safely without contamination. The strike force team is trained to put on the suits, and take them off safely, and manage patient care for suspected Ebola patients anywhere in the LifeNet coverage area, which includes Red River, Bowie and Cass counties in Texas, and Milller County Arkansas, Malvern, Ark.; Stillwater, Okla. and Hot Spring and Hot Springs Village, Ark.
“Getting the suits off is the hardest part,” Brown said, “without self-contamination.” He said one of the main rules in emergency medical services is “to not become a patient.” This rings especially true if transporting a suspected Ebola patient.
The Ebola transport-equipped ambulance and two members of the strike team would respond if the criteria for a suspected Ebola patient is met. All emergency pagers and phones would immediately receive notifications, Brown said.
“At the residence, we would prepare the patient for transport and call ahead to whatever hospital is close and is set up for Ebola care and give them a heads up. It’s usually the patient’s preference as long as the hospital is capable of dealing with that kind of patient.”
“We know that the hospital here in Clarksville does have protective equipment on the trailer outside the hospital, and ER has a plan written up and a designated area should they need one for holding Ebola patients, and we are working with St. Michael’s and Wadley’s as a community effort in Texarkana.”
“At some point, the Centers for Disease Control would be notified and they have a protocol regarding the residence and contacts and family members of any suspected Ebola patient,” according to Brown.
He said, though he didn’t expect to have any Ebola patients, Red River County’s proximity to the Dallas area – where Ebola has been diagnosed and treated and where the international airport moves people in from some of the high-risk countries – has called for LifeNet to stand ready and be prepared to deal with the virus, should it present.