The U.S. health care apparatus is so unprepared and short on resources to deal with the deadly Ebola virus that even small clusters of cases could overwhelm parts of the system, according to an Associated Press review of readiness at hospitals and other components of the emergency medical network.
Experts broadly agree that a widespread nationwide outbreak is extremely unlikely, but they also concur that it is impossible to predict with certainty, since previous Ebola epidemics have been confined to remote areas of Africa.
To assess America’s ability to deal with a major outbreak, the AP examined multiple indicators of readiness: training, staffing, funding, emergency room shortcomings, supplies and protection for health care workers.
Following the death of a man suffering from Ebola in a Texas hospital and the subsequent infection of two of his nurses, medical officials and politicians are scurrying to fix preparedness shortcomings. But remedies cannot be implemented overnight. And fixes will be expensive.
AP reporters frequently heard assessments that the smaller the facility, the less prepared it is to fight Ebola and other deadly infectious diseases. The U.S. has many more medium-size and small medical centers than large hospitals.
“The place I worry is: Are most small hospitals adequately prepared?” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a Harvard University health care quality specialist. “It clearly depends.”