Last week a woman on a tour of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., vomited as she disembarked the tour bus. She told her fellow tourists that she’d recently returned from western Africa, sparking fears of Ebola. As a precaution, her fellow passengers were quarantined for hours.
It turned out to be a hoax — the woman lied about where she had traveled. But the event revealed something about American hospitals’ preparedness for an Ebola case: they aren’t ready.
The woman was isolated in Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia, and later released. But the ambulance that picked her up didn’t originally head to Inova, it headed to the closest hospital, Virginia Hospital Center.
If she was taken to VHC, why wasn’t she treated there? The hospital refused to admit her.
Arlington Country Fire Department spokeswoman Lieutenant Sarah Marchegiani told local news outlet Arlington Now, “We were turned away. We followed our protocol and brought the patient to the closest hospital (VHC), at which point we were rerouted to Fairfax Inova.”
“The reason told to our medical director,” Marchegiani said. “Was that they couldn’t handle the patient.”
Arlington Now reports a source who “claims hospital administration refused to allow the patient inside once she arrived at the hospital. The person tells ARLnow.com there was a ‘heated exchange’ between the emergency physician and hospital administration inside the emergency room while the patient waited in the ambulance. The tipster also claims hospital administration worried it would lose business if it came to be seen as an ‘Ebola hospital.’”
VHC “is rated one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals,” even bragging on their website that. “For the second year in a row, Virginia Hospital Center has been named one of America’s 100 Top Hospitals by Truven Health Analytics, the nation’s leading independent organization that evaluates nearly 3,000 U.S. hospitals,” CNS News reports.
They were afraid the stigma of having an Ebola patient — even a fake one — would cost them business because other patients would be afraid to go there.
On Oct. 4, VHC told WUSA they were ready for any Ebola case, releasing the following statement:
“Virginia Hospital Center wants to reassure our community that the Hospital has the infrastructure and procedures already in place to screen, and if necessary, isolate, test and treat all high-risk patients. We drill and prepare for just such situations; therefore, our staff is highly trained to take appropriate precautions for a suspected and/or confirmed Ebola case.”
VHC told media they couldn’t take the patient only two weeks after issuing the statement, because they “believed it was imperative that we have dedicated connecting rooms in the biocontainment area that would allow for the use of an anteroom by staff to safely enter and leave a patient’s room and safely remove and decontaminate Personal Protective Equipment. We needed to construct this anteroom to help mitigate the risk of transmission to patients, staff and our community.”
Whether it was the stigma and fear of being labeled an “Ebola hospital,” or they simply weren’t ready, this incident exposes how, in spite of assurances from government officials and hospital administrators, the readiness of the nation’s health care infrastructure remains questionable.
“Ebola stigma” is a real concern for businesses. When NBC’s medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman, whose cameraman on a recent trip to report on Ebola in Africa actually was infected with Ebola, broke her voluntary seclusion to go out and pick up soup from a restaurant, business dried up.