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Originally published November 3 2014

Small clusters of Ebola would completely overwhelm US hospitals - AP investigation

by Jonathan Benson, staff writer

(NaturalNews) An assessment of the state of American healthcare compiled by The Associated Press (AP) has revealed that the nation is ill-prepared to deal with a large-scale Ebola outbreak. Even if the disease emerged in just small, isolated clusters, the existing medical infrastructure would quickly crumble, claims the press agency, leading to a cascading health crisis.

A team of AP reporters evaluated multiple indicators of preparedness at hospitals, including levels of training, available manpower, funding, emergency room conditions, available supplies, and infection control and protection for health workers. They also interviewed dozens of top experts in the field to gather educated opinions on the matter.

The verdict? Virtually every available resource is currently too limited to handle an infectious disease outbreak, and especially Ebola. Besides the likelihood that many healthcare workers would likely refuse to treat Ebola patients based on its track record of mysterious infections, many hospitals, and especially smaller ones, simply don't have the infrastructure in place to deal with the virus.

The worst contenders are smaller hospitals, which Dr. Ashish Jha from Harvard University suggests are the least equipped to deal with an Ebola outbreak. Though each hospital is unique, smaller hospitals tend to have less funding and fewer staff, and are usually the least trained when it comes to novel diseases that emerge seemingly out of nowhere, which is the case for Ebola.

HHS says don't worry, we've got things under control

Dr. Jha's concerns are valid in the sense that smaller hospitals may not always receive the most up-to-date information about how to deal with an uncommon disease outbreak. But this isn't necessarily a requirement, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which insists that the feds can have teams on the ground in an instant to provide assistance.

"The moment anyone has an Ebola patient, [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] will have a team on the ground within a matter of hours to help that hospital," said Dr. Nicole Lurie, the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, in a recent statement, admitting at the same time that there could be "spot shortages of personal protective equipment."

American emergency rooms already overextended, say experts

As far as the nation's emergency rooms are concerned, many are already struggling with extended wait times. The American College of Emergency Physicians gave the U.S. a D-plus rating for quality of emergency care, which would like enter F territory fairly quickly in the event of an Ebola outbreak, or some other disease epidemic.

As it currently stands, the average patient typically has to wait 4.5 hours in an emergency room before being admitted to see a doctor. As many as 2 percent of patients get tired of waiting and leave before they are even seen. And a study by the CDC says that at least one-third of all U.S. hospitals have to divert ambulances to other hospitals because of emergency rooms that have exceeded capacity -- this is already happening at Bellevue Hospital in New York where Dr. Craig Spencer is being treated.

"Even though there have been only a couple cases, many health systems are already overwhelmed," said Dr. Kenrad Nelson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former president of the American Epidemiological Society. Even just an uptick in flu cases would make it "really tough" for hospitals to handle the excess influx of patients, he says.

"We're really going to have to step up our game if we are going to deal with hemorrhagic fevers in this country," added Lawrence Gostin, a global health law expert and professor at Georgetown University, to the AP.

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