WASHINGTON – Maryland hospital officials have prescribed “huge doses of education” for their staffs after anthrax cases first appeared in state emergency rooms last month with mixed results.
Hospitals around the state have been circulating e-mails and memos about anthrax, smallpox, botulism and other potential threats.
They are also getting updated information about the anthrax cases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has held two bioterrorism teleconferences on the subject in recent weeks, said Nancy Fiedler, spokeswoman for the Association of Maryland Hospitals and Health Systems.
Since anthrax appeared in the Washington area a month ago, hospitals’ preparation efforts throughout the state have been “a combination of information, education, communication, and where applicable, appropriation,” said Robert Jepson, spokesman for Adventist Healthcare.
Southern Maryland Hospital Center was criticized for its handling of one of the first cases, a Brentwood postal worker who was allowed to go home after reporting to the hospital’s emergency room with flu-like symptoms. The postal worked died a day later of inhalation anthrax.
David DeClark, spokesman for Southern Maryland Hospital, said a CDC mandate now requires triage nurses to ask a full patient history, including whether the patient is a postal worker or could have been exposed to anthrax at the workplace.
Hospital officials said doctors and nurses should not have a problem recognizing anthrax now, but they still have to be aware of other potential terrorism threats.
“Bioterrorism is only one form of terrorism,” said Jepson, “We feel like we have to be prepared for any number of issues that we could be presented with.”
“Huge doses of education” have been the best mechanism for bringing staff up to speed, said Kevin Murnane, a spokesman for North Arundel Hospital.
But Holy Cross Hospital spokesman Mike Hall said most medical professionals have a “lot to study up on” because there are so many biological or chemical agents that could be used in an attack. He said preparation would have to include research because many of those agents have not yet been a public health threat.
But Dr. John Bartlett, chief of infectious disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the real problem in the event of a large-scale bioterrorist attack would not be recognition of the agent, but the hospital’s ability to handle a flood of patients.
Jepson said his hospitals — Shady Grove Adventist, Washington Adventist and Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation hospitals — are coordinating with others to come up with a response plan if an attack should occur.
Hospital officials said continued preparation efforts are necessary in the uncertain world terrorists have created.
“Hospitals, by their very nature, have to be prepared for every possible contingency,” Jepson said. “Since Sept 11, the scope has changed. The whole potential for what could happen has expanded.”