State, Humboldt General Partner to Host Tabletop Ebola Exercise

State and local officials gathered at Humboldt General Hospital Wednesday to consider what Ebola would look like in rural Nevada.

The "Ebola Virus Tabletop" brought together representatives from HGH, local law enforcement, the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, Nevada State EMS, the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory and representatives from rural hospitals throughout the state.

The exercise was sponsored by the Division of Public and Behavioral Health, Rural Community Health Services, and Humboldt General Hospital.

HGH EMS Rescue Captain Fergus Laughridge facilitated the three-hour discussion.

Laughridge said the exercise was an important way for participants to evaluate current response concepts, plans and capabilities in response to the viral disease that has killed more than 10,000 across the world, including two in the United States.

"Last fall, Ebola was all over the news," said Laughridge, "and it was the center of many hospital-related discussions."

"That conversation has now died down," he continued, "but the danger has not. Ebola is still a threat out there, and this exercise was just one more way to ensure that rural health care and law enforcement officials have the most up-to-date information and protocols in place."

The exercise considered the scenario of a 32-year-old man who presents to the HGH Emergency Department at 7 p.m. on a Friday with a three-day history of fever, muscle pain and severe headache.

The group of 30-plus members, including some who participated by phone, then played out the scenario by considering the steps that would allow them to protect the patient as well as healthcare workers and the public.

Laughridge said the group considered screening tools, isolation procedures, notification protocols and the challenges surrounding both the epidemiology and transport of an infected patient. They also considered how to communicate with the public and receiving hospitals.

"I think the group found this exercise very valuable in reinforcing what they already know, as well as filling in some gaps here and there," he said.

Laughridge said the group was grateful to have access to real-time information from state officials who have recently dealt with the measles outbreak and less commonly considered infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV.

Laughridge said the mercury contamination at Winnemucca Junior High School in February also allowed local officials to provide valuable feedback.

Similar preparedness activities will likely continue in the coming months and years, he added.

"As we continue to watch Ebola unfold and possibly become a more global disease, these kinds of activities will become increasingly critical," said Laughridge.

Regardless of the future of Ebola, however, the captain said Wednesday's exercise helped officials prepare for any emergency scenario which requires a high degree of coordination between health care, law enforcement and state agencies.