When Ebola arrives - Will healthcare workers come to work?

Ebola is spreading and healthcare workers are scared. In Spain, the US and other countries, hospital staff have refused to treat Ebola patients. Unprepared for this scenario, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week issued new guidelines for healthcare workers, whose role in Ebola treatment is crucial. In the US, 80% of patients that contracted Ebola have survived. Properly trained healthcare workers can ensure Ebola does not become what CDC Director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, calls the ‘next AIDS.’ Ongoing Israeli / US research by Ran Balicer (Ben Gurion University) and Dan Barnet (Johns Hopkins University) not only predicted this reaction but also recommended steps to address this challenge.  



Beginning in 2009, their work indicates that one-third of workers at a large urban US medical Center are unwilling to respond to a severe infectious disease outbreak. That number rose to 50% for public health personnel and pre-hospital emergency medical services (EMS) providers. 


Professor Barnet presented strategies for addressing these challenges at the International Emergency Preparedness meeting in Tel-Aviv last winter, organized by XXXX. “Familiarizing health responders with laws and policies designed to protect their well-being in an emergent infectious disease event is important for bolstering response willingness,” says Dr. Barnet.


Studies of Israeli healthcare workers have shown a high level of responsiveness across a variety of emergency scenarios. This may be related to the mandatory annual emergency training and drills performed in Israeli hospitals and public health services. 


Professor Barnet is much less enthusiastic about US preparedness. “Over the past several years, state and local public health preparedness systems have experienced dramatic cuts in funding and resources. This fact, coupled with an eroding and long-underfunded state and local public health infrastructure, places the US in a different public preparedness stratum than Israel. Israel is the first-tier gold standard in this realm; the US in my view is currently mid-tier by comparison to Israel."


The CDC’s lackluster initial response is being remedied with additional resources, including the appointment of an Ebola Czar, Ron Klair. Ebola is only the third event in the last 15 years to warrant a Level 1 response- the others being H1N1 influenza outbreak (2009) and Hurricane Katrina (2005). The CDC would be wise to consider the guidelines, training and measures to ensure the willingness of frontline Ebola healthcare workers.