State Health Officer discusses Alabama’s Ebola plan

State Health Officer Don Williamson discusses Alabama's plan for Ebola during a visit to Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama and Birmingham’s top health officers met with the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation to talk about the community’s ability to respond to an Ebola case.

On a scale of one to ten, State Health Officer Don Williamson would give Birmingham’s hospitals a nine, when it comes to readiness to handle an Ebola case.

“The idea that we are a ten on preparedness with anything is wrong,” Williamson said. “There’s always something we can do better.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s a lot that can be done better. The agency released a new set of guidelines Monday, requiring all health care workers dealing with Ebola patients to wear special protective equipment that exposes no skin.

Williamson said it would be difficult for all health care providers and emergency responders to buy the right equipment.

Not only would it take several weeks to order, the equipment could drive Albama’s Ebola-related spending over $1 million, without ever treating an actual case.

Williamson said he plans to consult with hospitals statewide and designate three to five facilities that can isolate a patient. Staff at other facilities would be trained to isolate patients and protect themselves, while the state arranges transport to one of the designated hospitals.

According to Williamson, Alabama has more than 100 unused mobile isolation pods to transport patients. Those pods were purchased by the federal government in 2009, during the H1N1 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Williamson is urging the public to take action.

“This time of year, we are going to see a lot of people who think they have Ebola, and they have no exposure at all,” Williamson said. “They’ve got influenza. One thing folks can do … Is get their flu vaccine. It can reduce a lot of stress that they have and stress on the system.”

In Birmingham, local health officials will require 911 dispatchers to ask callers with flu-like symptoms if they’ve been to West Africa. If not, Ebola can be ruled out.

Later this week, Birmingham’s Health Officer will also meet with hospitals to review procedures.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News

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