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Doctors, Nurses Concerned About Providence St. Patrick Ebola Readiness

Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, MT.
Courtesy St. Patrick Hospital
Courtesy Providence St. Patrick Hospital
Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, MT.

Soon after patients with Ebola began receiving treatment in the United States, Missoula’s Providence St. Patrick hospital was identified as one of four hospitals nationwide that’s especially prepared to care for someone with Ebola. That’s because the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton is nearby, and researchers there work with Ebola. St Patrick's says it has long been prepared to treat anyone who might get infected with Ebola or other dangerous pathogens there.

A Septemberpress release from the hospital says “St Patrick physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient. They train regularly with National Institutes of Health staff and with employees of Rocky Mountain Laboratories in nearby Hamilton, Montana.”

But at least two doctors who work at St. Patrick’s say they are only now getting the special training they need to work in St Patrick’s special isolation unit where an Ebola patient would be treated.

One physician, who asked for anonymity out of concern that he would no longer be able to work at St Patrick, says at least three physicians who would be called upon to treat an Ebola patient are only getting the special training they need this week.

Providence St Patrick Hospital has not responded to Montana Public Radio requests for comment.

Another doctor who works at Providence St Patrick, who may or may not be called upon to treat a patient with Ebola, says he has concerns, too. Dr. Alex Omura is an anesthesiologist who works for a specialty group that contracts with St Patrick.

"I don’t think you can ever be completely prepared for something like this," Omura said. "This is a newer disease and we still don't know everything about it. Including the level of infectivity and the optimal treatments for it, but St. Patrick hospital is as prepared as any hospital in the country is."

Nurses who work at St Patrick are also apparently concerned. Vicky Byrd, executive director of the Montana Nurses Association says nurses in Missoula have reached out to her organization.

"Actually they have been calling us," said Byrd. "We are going to plan to meet with St. Pat's Nursing Administration. We want to be a part of the solution and not be in crisis management, we want to be really proactive because they haven't accepted any patients yet so we want to make sure."

Byrd says she plans to come to Missoula soon to talk with management at St Patrick, but no specific date has been set yet. One item on the table for discussion is whether nurses would be allowed to decline to work while the hospital houses an Ebola patient. Byrd says the Association’s position is that nurses should be able to opt out of work as long as no critical shortage of staff is occurring, but she emphasized they have had no discussions with the hospital on that issue.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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