Ebola. It's taken the healthcare community by firestorm and ignited global concern. Intense emergency preparedness and infection prevention efforts continue as we learn how to deal with the threat as well as the disease itself, both in developing and developed countries. Issues of critical importance, such as donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, waste management, isolation challenges, and limiting the spread of infection, are front and center in healthcare facilities around the world. The reaction from healthcare workers has ranged from full engagement in readiness activities and volunteering to care for Ebola patients, to abject fear and, sometimes, not-so-quiet threats of resignation.
The decision to become a nurse and work in a healthcare setting has always carried a host of risks, including the risk of communicable diseases and injuries. The availability and use of safety measures that offer protection are better now than they've ever been, thanks to workplace regulations, device innovations, and science. However, no method is infallible, and human factors can short-circuit the best safety strategies. Perhaps as a profession, we've also become conditioned—and maybe even somewhat jaded—when it comes to the usual, known threats.
As a case in point, compliance with hand washing, isolation procedures, and sterile technique should be a no-brainer. Yet, along with our colleagues in medicine, allied health, and support services, we struggle with consistency in applying basic infection control measures correctly across the healthcare spectrum. Failures in infection prevention practices have allowed the direct spread of influenza, C. difficile, MRSA, pseudomonas, and tuberculosis, to name a few. These diseases can carry significant morbidity and mortality, not only for vulnerable patients but for healthcare workers as well.
Make no mistake—Ebola is a disease that leaves no room for error in personal protection. There's no vaccine. Mortality is high. But consider this: A breach in proper infection control techniques for the usual biological threats that exist in our healthcare environment every day can yield the same deadly outcome as Ebola for a compromised patient. So, if anything of value comes out of the devastation wrought by Ebola, it is my sincere hope that we in healthcare recognize the need to recommit to the evidence-based systems and practices that keep all patients and staff safe from the threat of disease transmission.
Until next time,
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM
Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2014 Vice President: Emergency & Trauma Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.