Out of the eight New York hospitals designated to handle potential Ebola patients, two are on Long Island: Stony Brook University Hospital and the North Shore LIJ, state officials announced Thursday.
But North Shore LIJ has yet to identify which one of its 17 locations will receive that designation, its spokeswoman said. When the health system will make that determination is also unknown.
Part of the agreement with the state required both hospitals to have created special isolation units to treat the infection.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state health and transportation officials convening in New York City briefed the media Thursday regarding the state’s Ebola preparedness plan. They also used the platform to urge calm, noting that the anxiety level has far surpassed the actual gravity of the situation.
“I believe people are much more anxious and there’s a semi-hysteria about it, which is understandable,” Cuomo said. “But it is not backed up by the numbers or the probability or the facts that we have at this time. But I understand why people are afraid.”
To date, only three people—a Liberian man who eventually died and two nurses who treated him in Dallas—have been diagnosed in the US. Still, missteps made by the hospital in Dallas have forced officials nationwide to re-examine their protocols when dealing with such a deadly infectious disease as Ebola.
Dr. Howard A. Zucker, New York State Health Department’s acting commissioner, said that starting next week his staff will visit hospitals throughout the state to examine their protocols.
He said the health department is working closely with physicians and other health professionals so they’re better prepared to recognize a potential Ebola patient.
Zucker also said he’s issued a “Commissioner’s Order” to all New York hospitals and medical centers requiring they follow proper protocols for identification, isolation and evaluation of potential patients. All health systems are mandated to properly train their workers with regard to safely donning and removing their personal protective equipment, he said.
Cuomo said both the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the MTA is working with employees to make sure they have the necessary equipment and training to protect themselves. Unannounced drills that have already taken place at hospitals and college campuses will be expanded to include the subway and other transit systems, he said.
“This is not in their job description, it’s not what you sign up for when you sign up to be a transit worker, but everyone has responded admirably,” Cuomo said.
Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye noted that since US Customs and Border Protection agents have been screening travelers arriving at JFK from three Western African nations—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—none have been identified as having Ebola. (Foye also said that an Air Afrik passenger who died Thursday morning on board the plane while it was en route to JFK had suffered from cardiac arrest. His death “was no way related to the Ebola virus,” he said.)
CBP agents, working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are escorting all the travelers from the Ebola-infected countries to a private area where they have their temperature taken. If passengers are visibly showing other symptoms, they are then referred to the CDC for a public health assessment.
The Port Authority has been directed by Cuomo to coordinate efforts with each international state airport, issuing advice and best practices, Foye said. The partnership with these airports will commence immediately, he said.
Cuomo said the state is implementing these steps out of an abundance of caution.
“I would rather that than the alternative, which is we’re unprepared,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re preparing if the situation presents itself.”
While acknowledging that “Ebola is a frightening disease,” he said there’s no reason for undue anxiety among the public. “There’s no reason to panic,” he said.
Cuomo, sounding confident, said there’s no state more prepared in the country to handle a “situation like this.”
Commissioner Zucker reminded the public to get a flu shot so doctors can rule out that virus out and then focus on a possible Ebola infection, prompting Cuomo to respond:
“I’m getting mine right away, I’m one of those anxious types!”
List of designated hospitals:
Mt. Sinai in Manhattan
New York Presbyterian in Manhattan
Bellevue in Manhattan
Montefiore in the Bronx
North Shore/LIJ Health System in Nassau County
Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse
University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester
Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island