DENVER - Top health leaders have outlined a comprehensive plan for how the state would respond in the unlikely chance an Ebola patient ends up in Colorado.
Dr. Larry Wolk is the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). On Tuesday, he laid out key protocols local hospitals and healthcare professionals are now being trained to follow, just in case.
"We really have drilled this down to, 'Ask, Isolate, Call,'" explained Dr. Wolk.
Under the current plan, all healthcare workers are required to ask patients about travel to affected areas in Africa, exposure to Ebola, and symptoms consistent with the disease. If any patient answers yes to these question, the person must be isolated.
Colorado hospitals are also now required to immediately notify the CDPHE if a patient is even suspected of having the Ebola Virus. Once notified, the CDPHE would deploy its own state task force and coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) until its team arrives.
The CDPHE will also provide laboratory guidance; Wolk said the CDC will not accept lab tests without guidance from the state.
Specific protocols for handling human and laboratory waste were also identified on Tuesday.
"It's really just making sure everybody's prepared regardless of the scenario," said Wolk.
He said every health care worker must be able to make the call that a person could be infected with Ebola and needs further evaluation.
However, under the current "ladder system", an Ebola patient in Colorado would eventually be transferred to Denver Health, University Hospital or Children's Hospital. These three facilities have been identified as best equipped to handle these types of patients.
"It's not limited to these three hospitals nor do we think there won't be additional hospitals that will have that capability," further explained Dr. Wolk.
Local hospitals are also complying with new tightened CDC requirements, including a new no skin requirement for personal protective equipment (PPE) used by anyone caring for Ebola patients.
Under the new guidelines, PPE must fully cover healthcare workers treating Ebola patients.
The new requirement comes after nurses at Texas Presbyterian Hospital raised concerns after PPE left their necks exposed while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan later died from Ebola and two other nurses at the hospital were diagnosed with the virus.
Gail Finley is the Vice President of the Colorado Hospital Association. She said the three identified hospitals prepared to treat these types of patients had already started implementing changes to its PPE before the new CDC requirements were announced.
Finley said some hospitals have already ordered new equipment and updated training is also in the works.
"The training that we do is hands on and it needs to be for the appropriate use of PPE's, just because each manufacturer has a little bit difference nuances, equipment and how it's used," she further explained.
"Most concerned about clarifying what the requirements are specific to Ebola that might be different than what we are familiar with in terms of universal precautions," said Colleen Casper, executive director of the Colorado Nurse's Association.