Ebola – The Real Risk

The direct risk of Ebola to most Americans remains low, yet very real fears exist, particularly with a new case confirmed in America’s largest city. However, from a personal health perspective, it’s important to recognize the relative danger as outlined in “Things More Likely to Kill You than Ebola.” According to that article, you’re at greater risk of death from falling down stairs, shark attack, slipping in your bathtub, or killer bees.

To date, America’s cases of Ebola have been exclusive to healthcare workers-doctors or nurses dealing directly with infected patients who contracted the disease overseas. But the recent case in New York highlights again the evolving nature of how public officials are dealing with this issue. Debate continues over the benefits of voluntary versus mandatory quarantine and the perceived need for a complete travel ban from infected areas. And now a nurse in mandatory quarantine in New Jersey, Kaci Hickox, is threatening a lawsuit over her treatment. The learning curve we’re all facing is obvious.

Of course, the greatest current organizational risk lies with hospitals. Although each should already have infectious disease procedures in place, review is certainly appropriate. If an Ebola patient, or even a potential patient, presents, there could be a need to close or quarantine an emergency room and hazmat, disposal and disinfection procedures all come into play. Another very real business risk for an impacted hospital is the short and long term loss of public confidence and the need for appropriate public relations. Carol Scully, Director of Strategic Risk Management at MJ Insurance adds, “The successful treatment process of any patient with an infectious disease comes down to clearly defined quality training, communication, the access to the proper equipment on hand and the robust and consistent practice of dawning and disposing procedures by the identified staff.”

What Ebola has done, more than anything, is make US hospitals very aware that appropriate risk management requires active engagement and ongoing review. Regardless where this particular virus takes us, it should make every organization question how truly prepared it is to deal with a widespread health threat. This means evaluation of coverages and planning related to supply chain interruption, absenteeism, corporate communication, business continuity, corporate travel policies and more. Even if Ebola never causes direct issues for you or your organization-a likely reality-it should jolt your organization to move beyond the theoretical and move into action.

So, the real risk of Ebola? Ongoing complacency. It’s time for more than talk.