Dr. David Evelyn is "heavily involved" in preparing Cayuga Medical for Ebola. Photo courtesy of a hospital brochure.

Ithaca, N.Y. — Someone walked into the Cayuga Medical Center last week, told the receptionist about some symptoms and mentioned recent travel to Liberia for a conference.

The information was relayed to a triage nurse, and the person was quickly ushered into an isolated room. Then one nurse put on all the proper protective equipment to deal with the deadly Ebola virus. The nurse began to enter the isolation room.

It was only then that the nurse was told that the person had been acting as part of a drill. Neither the nurses nor the receptionists knew the drill was coming.

That exercise is just one of the many ways the Cayuga Medical Center is preparing for the possibility that someone who shows signs of contracting the virus appears in Tompkins County, according to Dr. David Evelyn, the hospital’s vice president for medical affairs.

“They thought it was real,” he said of the drill.

Dr. David Evelyn is "heavily involved" in preparing Cayuga Medical for Ebola. Photo courtesy of a hospital brochure.
Dr. David Evelyn is “heavily involved” in preparing the Cayuga Medical Center for Ebola. Photo courtesy of a hospital brochure.

Evelyn said the receptionists, triage nurse and the rest of the nursing staff performed exceptionally.

“They did very well: They followed all the protocols to the letter,” Evelyn said, noting that it probably took five minutes for the person to be put in the isolation room and another 10 minutes for the nurse to put on all the protective gear.

“We were very reassured that they asked the right questions and got the patient back in the appropriate environment so quickly.”

Background on Ebola

Hospitals across the country are preparing for treating people who have Ebola or show symptoms of the disease.

Thomas Eric Duncan, of Liberia, died on Oct. 8 in a Dallas, Texas, hospital of the disease. His death was followed by the news that two nurses have since contracted Ebola.

Overall, five Americans have contracted Ebola in West Africa and returned to the U.S., according to The New York Times. One American, a freelance cameraman for NBC filming in Liberia, was flown to Nebraska Medical Center. Another was taken to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

What’s the risk locally?

The Cayuga Medical Center’s Evelyn, who has a master’s degree in public health, said that Ithaca may be in some greater risk than other areas because of the universities’ international connections.

“I think overall our risk is low, but we do have some risk because of the amount of international travel that does come through Ithaca from all over the world,” Evelyn said.

Has anything else happened locally?

There have been no cases of Ebola or any scares/false alarms in Tompkins County, either at the colleges or elsewhere, according to Evelyn.

What else is the Cayuga Medical Center doing?

1 — Questions up front

Since the respiratory disease SARS struck in the early 2000s, the hospital’s staff have been asking patients about their travel history, according to Evelyn.

However, while that question was once asked during patients’ nursing assessments, during the current Ebola scare the hospital now asks patients about their travel histories at the front window.

“We’ve pushed that up,” Evelyn said.

The idea is to be able to isolate patients as soon as possible.

2 — Review of protective equipment

CMC is reviewing with its staff the correct way to put on what’s known as “PPE” — personal protective equipment. That includes how to put on gowns, gloves, masks “and all the things they need to protect themselves,” Evelyn said.

“Ebola is a disease that is transmitted through blood and body secretions,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is protect our staff from having contact with blood or body secretions.”

3 — General education

Evelyn said the Cayuga Medical Center employees have also done “some general education among our staff” about the Ebola disease.

He also noted that Dr. Doug MacQueen has done radio segments to reach out to the public about the disease.

4 — In synch with colleges, health department

Evelyn said CMC has also been working with the local health department and local college health centers to ensure that all three organizations are on the same page in the event of an Ebola patient or an Ebola scare.

This will ensure that “if a potential ebola patient shows up in a college health center,” the agencies are on the same page about “what they do, how they get transported to our ER and how we deal with them,” Evelyn said.

What is Cornell doing?

Cornell released a statement on Thursday outlining that the university would be taking the follow steps:

— Cornell students, faculty and staff “may not travel” for study abroad to West African nations under CDC travel warnings.

— Travel for personal reasons to these countries is “strongly discouraged.”

— Hosting visitors from these countries is also “strongly discouraged.”

— Preparing Gannett providers, Environmental Health and Safety Staff and other first responders.

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.