Ebola: 'We're prepared' say Hamilton hospitals

Hamilton Health Sciences hospitals will be referral points for potential Ebola cases, the province announced Friday. Intense staff training is underway to help with stress levels about the disease

The WHO says the Ebola outbreak has killed 4,000 people in West Africa

Mark Jefferson, an infection control practitioner at Hamilton General, practices putting on the protective suit he would wear if in contact with a potential Ebola patient. (John Rieti/CBC)

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Frontline healthcare workers in Hamilton are learning how to keep themselves safe while caring for potential Ebola patients, after the provincial government listed Hamilton Health Sciences hospitals as a referral point for those suffering worrying symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of health and long-term care, listed ten referring hospitals including Hamilton Health Sciences — which includes Hamilton General, McMaster University Medical Centre, The Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre and more — at a news conference on Friday in Toronto. Hoskins held the event to explain how the province is preparing for future Ebola cases.

The province also plans to provide more protective equipment to the hospitals, such as biohazard suits and N95 respirator masks.

Ontario Health Minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, named 10 hospitals that will deal with potential Ebola cases. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
​At Hamilton General, staff spent over six hours learning how to put on and take off protective gear, a careful and intense exercise. While staff routinely wear protective gear — especially during the late fall season of respiratory illnesses like the flu — the hospital has been ramping up its training for Ebola.

"The stress level around this is quite significant," said Kirsten Krull, the HHS VP of Inter-Professional Practice and Chief Nursing Executive.

Krull said hospital staff, from doctors to nurses to cleaners, have the necessary equipment to deal with a possible Ebola patient. She said the hospital is also considering different protective options, including gear that would be easier to take off with less risk of contamination, a "real concern" for hospital workers.

So far, ten Ontario patients have been tested for Ebola and the results have all come back negative. None of those potential cases were in Hamilton, but Krull said staff are prepared.

"There will be suspect things that show up," she said, noting Ebola is only one virus.

"We’re prepared."

No confirmed Ebola cases in Canada

"There are no confirmed cases of Ebola or any other hemorrhagic virus diseases in Canada," said Dr. David Mowat, the province’s interim chief medical officer of health.

"In fact, there has never been a case of such a disease in Canada," he said, adding the risk of transmission in this country is very low.

The World Health Organization says the current Ebola outbreak, centred in West Africa where more than 4,000 people have died, is the largest and most complex since the virus was discovered in 1976.

Hamilton doctors have so far downplayed the risk of the disease hitting this city, and said preparations have been made.

"We’ve been spending a lot of time over the last two months putting preparations in place," Dr. Jocelyn Srigley, the associate medical director of infection prevention and control at Hamilton Health Sciences, told CBC Hamilton after a man in Dallas, Texas, became the first to have and die of the disease in North America.

"Even if we do get a patient, it will be well controlled."

That control has become a major story since that time, especially after two nurses that treated the Texas patient have now been sickened with the disease.