Philadelphia council assesses region’s Ebola readiness

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    Philadelphia health and safety leaders convened for a city hearing Thursday to examine how well the region is prepared to respond to disease threats and whether it has the resources it needs.

    According to the city’s chief medical officer, the region has been stepping up efforts to be ready.

    Councilman Curtis Jones called for the Thursday hearing in response to the growing Ebola outbreak abroad and the recent infection of two health workers in Texas.

    “Facts must replace fear,” he said, adding that the aim is to make sure the city has a coordinated plan. He took testimony from city preparedness and health leaders including Dr. James Buehler, the city’s new health commissioner.

    “We’ve issued guidance to health care providers, we provided information to the public and we worked in coordination with other city agencies, hospitals and other response parties,” he said.

    Buehler gave the region an “A to A+” in terms of its ability to respond to a case of Ebola if one should arise. He stressed the disease is not easily spread.

    A state nurse association has been urging that one or a few designated health centers be selected to treat Ebola. Buehler said all area hospitals with emergency rooms are prepared to do this. 

    Jones then asked that Bueler’s department be more proactive than usual, making sure that other agencies and health centers are actually following recommended protocols and have the resources they need.

    “I would only say, because you are new, there are certain events that change how we do business, and in this particular case we will probably ask you going forward to take a more assertive role from a health perspective,” Jones said.

    City Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer testified that, by the end of the week, every paramedic in the city would be specifically trained in how to take precautions against Ebola.

    The emergency workers also have implemented a new buddy system “so that when someone is donning or taking off their equipment, they have a buddy to help them make sure they follow all the procedures and the precautions,” Sawyer said.

    Some health workers and emergency responders across the state have expressed concerns about a lack of adequate training and equipment, including president of the city’s firefighter’s union and a representative of another local hospital union. Sawyer said his department recently upgraded protective suits as well as ordering 1,000 more.

    According to Samantha Phillips, deputy director of Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management, “there are no unmet needs that have been brought to my attention.” In the last 12 months, the region spent about $14 million on public safety and homeland security equipment, while another $140,000 went for hazardous materials response equipment. 

    Jones asked that agencies assess their resources and report any further needs.

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