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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 6:23 am | Fair 46º


Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Hones Its Response to Ebola Cases

An isolation wing has been set up, and more than 200 employees who volunteered to be part of the quarantine team have undergone training

You’re a nurse and you’ve been exposed to Ebola.

Luckily, you’re inside Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where Santa Barbara County’s only special Highly Infectious Care Unit, a zero-pressure isolation wing that locks from the inside, has been set up on the third floor.

You’re in full personal protective-equipment gear, walking from one of three patient rooms past a satellite lab for remote testing and waste storage area to the designated decontamination room.

In order to start “doffing” or removing those garments, you must wait for your “buddy,” a fellow medical professional who has volunteered for Cottage’s new response team that teaches two hours worth of proper protocols for treating the disease that’s claimed the lives of thousands in West African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

During one of those practice trainings Thursday — where chocolate syrup served as Ebola contaminants — two of the 200 volunteers on the local team demonstrated the slow, thought-out process.

Because Ebola spreads person-to-person through direct contact with bodily fluids — and has no vaccinated cure — the nurse’s buddy stood on the other side of a blue line on the floor to talk her through it.

She handed sanitation wipes to swab double-gloved hands and a plastic facial mask. Once clean, the nurse slowly removed the mask. Her buddy untied the back inside of her gown, helped lift it (and taped gloves) over her head before it was all thrown into a contamination trash can.

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital has posted signs outside its lobby asking those with Ebola-like symptoms not to come inside, but to call and have personnel come take them into the secure unit for testing. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

The nurse applied more sanitation gel, then removed head netting and knee-high booties.

Ebola hasn’t been diagnosed locally, but Cottage Hospital has been perfecting its process for a month in collaboration with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

“We’ve been working really hard to figure this out,” said Leslie Stanfield, a registered nurse and director of infection prevention and control.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of Ebola in the United States last month, the county Public Health Department had already been devising a plan.

County Public Health Officer Charity Thoman, who began that preparation in August, said two nurses who contracted Ebola from a patient in Dallas were not wearing proper gear and still had some skin exposed.

Making the response team voluntary was key, Thoman said, since not all nurses and doctors are cut out to be in an isolation situation.

“Maintaining calm is essential,” she said.

Patients observed with Ebola-like symptoms, which are very similar to the flu, will be questioned about travel history to West Africa and screened for fever, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and more.

Although Ebola has not been diagnosed locally, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital has spent the past month perfecting its process for treating the disease. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Other diseases found in West Africa, such as malaria or typhoid fever, also exhibit those symptoms, Thoman said.

Cottage has put up signs outside its lobby doors, asking those who might have symptoms to stay outside and call the hospital to have personnel come to them.

Those suspected of having Ebola are taken to the isolation unit, where they would have two dedicated nurses and blood samples tested within the first 72 hours — how long it can take to test positive.

A patient could be quarantined anywhere from two to 21 days, and a Pulsed UV Disinfection robot would be used to kill Ebola after a room has been used.

Thoman said Cottage’s team was exemplary, since no other area hospitals have dedicated wings, although they’ve practiced protocols.

It’s a matter of when — not if — Ebola-like symptoms will be found locally, she said, since Santa Barbara has so many international visitors.

“Cottage has really been ahead of the curve,” Thoman said. “Cottage is ready.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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