As It Fights Ebola, Presbyterian Sends Medical Students and Non-Essential Workers Home

As Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital becomes the epicenter of the American Ebola scare, Texas Woman's University announced yesterday that all "non-essential personnel" had been suspended until further notice from the East Dallas hospital. The university referred specifically to the 90 TWU students this decision would effect, but the announcement of the closure touches on just one more way hospital business has taken a hit in the last two weeks.

While the hospital declined to comment on what exactly the removal of these workers entails, the move can be likened to the emergency preparedness plans which remove non-essential personnel from the hospital in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. Not only does the move indicate the hospital's level of concern for further spread within the hospital, the potential for spread is now considered an emergency.

Dr. Forney Fleming, Director of the Healthcare Management Program at UT Dallas, says essential workers who remain at the hospital likely includes anyone involved in direct patient care. "There's a large number of workers who would fall into the non-essential category. So for example there's the IT department, the HR department, the quality improvement department, the students," he says. "Probably they want to take out as many bodies there as they possibly can until they determine how this young lady contracted the virus."

It's the big unknown that clearly has administration at the nonprofit hospital so scared that they're willing to incur revenue losses. And Fleming says in just the two weeks since Duncan fell ill, these losses are likely substantial.

The hospital also diverted emergency room traffic starting Sunday. "No ambulances were being brought there. Now typically that happens when your ER is packed, but by diverting they were trying to keep people away from there," says Fleming.

And this is in addition to the hospital losing elective procedure traffic. "For all those other things, a lot of people will be saying, 'Hey I don't want to go in there for my mammogram right now,'" says Fleming. "So it certainly has to be having an effect on them."

"I think this sends a message of great concern which may be overblown to some extent. There's a lot of communicable diseases that float around, and flu is at the top of the list," he says. "But I think the concern was that the message was being made that the hospital was well prepared to handle this, they could control it. And other than the people that were previously exposed, there was no concern. And then to have a health care worker come down with it, it certainly is going to be concern to the public."

Fleming estimates that non-essential workers will likely remain home for the remainder of the virus incubation period -- at least 21 days for Nurse Pham's case, and additional time for anyone else that may contract the virus in the coming weeks.

"This thing has just snowballed, without question," says Fleming. "On the one hand, there's the cost of the medical care, and then the loss of traffic and revenue because of the people that now are reluctant to use their services for the time being. So both of those are going to show up on the bottom line."

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Emily Mathis

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