LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - When EMS rushed a man suspected of having the Ebola virus to University Medical Center on Thursday, the nurses there had already prepared for this type of situation for several weeks.
They follow Centers for Disease Control regulations and had special equipment on hand that can protect them from the deadly virus.
The gear covers the nurses from head to toe, with their necks partially exposed.
The equipment includes a boot covering, impermeable gowns, droplet isolation mask, hair net, goggles, face shield and rubber gloves. They are still trying to develop a way to hide their necks without risking potential contamination to their faces.
"We're still looking at potentially covering the neck because we know that's a big question right now with a lot of the front line nurses," said UMC MICU assistant director Alisha Turner.
"We don't want to constantly change our protocols because when that happens errors happen and we don't want to put our staff in harm's way for contamination."
UMC will assign two nurses per one Ebola patient so they can use the "buddy system."
This allows nurses to dress themselves in this precautionary gear and make sure they are staying as safe as possible. One nurse will treat the patient in a reverse isolation room while the other watches from outside to make sure protocol is properly followed.
"That protective equipment is extensive," said UMC representative Eric Finley, "but it's not nearly as extensive as the process for putting it on and also taking it off to protect those healthcare workers."
When taking off the contaminated equipment, nurses will make sure to roll it away from their bodies. Then, all of it will be thrown away and burned.
During this process, the nurse will go through five pairs of gloves and will wash his/her hands four times or more.
"Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids and so you have to be very careful," Finley said. "If you're in the room with that patient, especially a patient that is very, very sick, there may be lots of different fluids in that room and can be passed to that healthcare worker. So they need to be very, very careful when they're taking off that equipment not to contaminate their skin, get it in their mouths, their eyes, maybe any wounds that they may have. So they need to be very careful when they're taking it off not to contaminate themselves."
Nurses are trained to go through this process slowly and as quietly as possibly, and Finley said they are getting better with the process each day.
"We have small teams of nurses who are specially trained in this, to handle these situations," he said, "so it's something that they're trained on routinely, but these teams of nurses are doing it every single day trying to prepare for this. So I think they are confident."