Mike Koozmin/the s.f. examinerDozens of nurses picket outside the Kaiser hospital on Geary Boulevard on Tuesday. The nurses are striking for two days due to concerns that patient care is suffering.

SF hospitals step up Ebola preparedness training for health care workers

San Francisco hospitals are among those accelerating their efforts this week to train health care workers on how to treat patients infected with Ebola as federal health officials on Monday urged the nation's hospitals to “think Ebola.”

The stepped-up preparedness in The City and across the U.S. comes a day after a nurse in Dallas became the first person to contract the disease within the nation. The nurse was wearing protective gear when she took care of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who became the first person in the U.S. to die from Ebola.

There have been no documented cases of Ebola in San Francisco or in other U.S. cities outside of the Dallas area.

The City's hospitals have been training health care workers how to respond to potential Ebola patients as guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a call last week between the Department of Public Health and San Francisco hospitals sought to ensure that doctors and nurses are being properly trained.

But the recent diagnoses of nurse Nina Pham in Dallas and Duncan's death have highlighted the need for increased efforts, said Dr. Tomas Aragon, health officer of San Francisco.

“It's accelerating because it feels more real now that we've had an imported case, and a transmission in the U.S.,” Aragon said, noting that hospitals are at different stages in their training.

While San Francisco's hospital systems — including UC San Francisco, Kaiser and Sutter Health — all have the capacity and capability to treat an infectious disease, additional training ensures health care workers are competent in handling a patient with the Ebola virus, which with a mortality rate of nearly 50 percent is the deadliest disease doctors and nurses have ever had to prepare for in The City, hospital officials say.

“Hospitals take care of infectious diseases all the time, [but] because Ebola is so deadly, they now need to develop a high level of competency to be able to do this with an Ebola patient,” Aragon said.

Training includes conducting exercises and drills, first by planning for situations such as a patient with Ebola coming to an emergency room, and then by acting out different scenarios, Aragon explained.

Tabletop exercises, for instance, call for a team of health care workers to walk through certain situations to identify gaps or vulnerabilities within a response plan. Teams might also practice simulated drills of running an infected patient through the emergency room, and learn how to properly put on personal protective gear.

Meanwhile, CDC Director Tom Frieden said he would not be surprised if another hospital worker who cared for Duncan becomes ill because Ebola patients become more contagious as the disease progresses.

The CDC now is monitoring all hospital workers who treated Duncan and planned to “double down” on training and outreach on how to safely treat Ebola patients, Frieden said.

More than 4,000 patients with Ebola in West Africa have died as of Friday, according to the CDC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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