That’s why the toolkit is a good place for you to start. Features of the respiratory toolkit include a user-friendly description of the types of respirators (e.g., N95 and negative pressure respirators) and the proper way to conduct a fit test on users. A technical, yet easy-to-understand explanation of the hazards present in healthcare is illustrated by photos that demonstrate, for example, the droplets that remain suspended in the air after someone sneezes.
Informative graphics describe when users should wear certain types of respirators, and photos demonstrate what a proper fit should look like. Also, it covers developing a respiratory protection plan in the workplace and explains how to conduct a hazard assessment of how likely you are to have someone with an aerosol-transmitted disease.
If you’re lucky, your facility will never see a situation that requires your staff to work with a patient in full-body isolation suits, such as was necessary when hospital workers in Dallas treated the nation’s first Ebola patient in October 2014. For the most part, if someone is that sick, he or she will probably visit the emergency room when they exhibit severe symptoms. But maybe not. In early stages, Ebola presented similar to the flu and many medical clinics are now connected with hospitals, making them increasingly the first point of contact for sick patients.
For those reasons, your clinic staff should definitely have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to work with colleagues in the very complicated PPE needed to help keep them protected from exposure to even the smallest amount of blood and other infectious body fluids. Your facility isn’t alone. After the 2014 Ebola scare, many hospitals and healthcare facilities assessed their situations and realized they weren’t ready, leading to the formation of Ebola SWAT teams and collaborations with the CDC to help prepare staff for dealing with deadly diseases and necessary PPE.
Your staff isn’t wearing it right. There’s a pretty good chance your clinic staff have never seen a full-body isolation suit, let alone ever worked in one. It’s time to change that, because the era of “We’ll never need that” is over.
The most basic isolation suits have several components including a headpiece, boots, and gloves with seams that must be properly sealed with tape. In most cases, donning and doffing the PPE requires up to 35 separate steps and working with a “spotter” to help make sure it’s done properly. When working in the suits, vision can be impaired and it can get very hot, so it’s very important that someone monitor the situation and know when it’s time to rotate the worker in with someone else.
“Working in this PPE is a very big deal,” said William Rockwell, BE, CHFM, hospital engineer for the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, one of two Virginia hospitals that cared for suspected Ebola patients in late 2014. “It’s why you aren’t training hundreds of people to do it.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t introduce your staff to working with it. Check out the CDC’s website on Ebola prep at www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/healthcare-us/ppe/guidance.html for a primer on what to do and then click the link to check out the video collaborations with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on the proper use of full-body isolation PPE. If your clinic is connected to a hospital that has training suits available, ask to borrow them and schedule an in-service training soon.
John Palmer is the former managing editor of Medical Environment Update. This article originally appeared in the April issue of Medical Environment Update.