Highly-Rated D.C.-Area Hospital Turned Away Suspected Ebola Patient

By Terence P. Jeffrey | October 21, 2014 | 2:14pm EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Virginia Hospital Center—which is less than seven miles from the White House and is rated one of the nation’s Top 100 hospitals—turned away a suspected Ebola patient on Friday without examining her and without explaining to the fire department that brought her to the hospital in an ambulance why they would not admit her, according to the Arlington County Fire Department.

The department estimates that its ambulance waited outside the Virginia Hospital Center for 20 minutes before being directed to Inova Fairfax Hospital, Lt. Sarah-Maria Marchegiani, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Fire Department told CNSNews.com.

The patient in question, it turned out, did not have Ebola.

In an Oct. 3 story that the Virginia Hospital Center linked to its own website, WUSA Channel 9 reported that the hospital suggested it was prepared to deal with an Ebola case.

“Virginia Hospital Center wants to reassure our community that the Hospital has the infrastructure and procedures already in place to screen, and if necessary, isolate, test and treat all high-risk patients,” said the report. “We drill and prepare for just such situations; therefore, our staff is highly trained to take appropriate precautions for a suspected and/or confirmed Ebola case.”

The hospital also notes on its website that it has been ranked one of the nation’s top hospitals.

“For the second year in a row, Virginia Hospital Center has been named one of America's 100 Top Hospitals by Truven Health Analytics, the nation’s leading independent organization that evaluates nearly 3,000 U.S. hospitals,” says a statement at the top of the hospital’s homepage. “We are one of only two hospitals in the Virginia/Washington DC/Baltimore region to be so named, and are truly honored to be recognized in this elite group.”

The incident that resulted in this nationally ranked D.C.-area hospital not admitting a suspected Ebola patient began Friday morning at the Pentagon—the headquarters of the United States military.

“At about 9:10 a.m. today, Pentagon Police officers identified a woman in the Pentagon South Parking Lot, around lanes 17-19, who was ill and vomiting,” said a statement issued that day by the Arlington County government. “Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) was notified and responded immediately with both emergency medical aid and HazMat response team.

“During the response, the individual allegedly indicated that she had recently visited western Africa,” said the statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, all pedestrian and vehicular traffic was suspended around the South Parking lot, while Arlington County responded to the scene. At 9:53 a.m, the patient was taken to the Virginia Hospital Center; however she did not exit the ambulance. ACFD then transported the patient to Fairfax Inova Hospital.”

According to Google Maps, Inova Fairfax Hospital is 10.9 miles by road from the Pentagon and 7.3 miles from the Virginia Hospital Center by the most direct routes. There are major hospitals in Washington, D.C. that are closer to both the Pentagon and the Virginia Hospital Center. George Washington University Hospital is 3.0 miles from the Pentagon and 5.5 miles from Virginia Hospital Center, for example; and Georgetown University Hospital is 5.1 miles from the Pentagon and 6.1 miles from the Virginia Hospital Center.

Why was the suspected Ebola patient turned away from Virginia Hospital Center and sent to Inova Fairfax Hospital?

The Arlington County Fire Department, which brought the patient to the hospital, says it does not know.

Lt. Sarah-Maria Marchegiani, a spokesperson for the department, told CNSNews.com that the Arlington County Fire Department ambulance crew that transported the suspected Ebola victim from the Pentagon on Friday had notified the Virginia Hospital Center en route that it was bringing in a suspected Ebola patient.

The Arlington County Fire Department’s normal practice, Marchegiani said, is to bring significant trauma patients, who are in serious condition, to George Washington University Hospital, across the river in Washington, D.C. They ordinarily bring minor trauma and non-trauma patients to the Virginia Hospital Center.

In this case, however, when the Arlington County Fire Department ambulance carrying the suspected Ebola patient arrived at the Virginia Hospital Center, Marchegiani said, the hospital told the crew to wait and not bring the patient into the hospital.

Then the Virginia Hospital Center, without having examined the suspected Ebola patient, told the ambulance crew to take her to Inova Fairfax Hospital instead.

Marchegiani said that the Fire Department did not know why the Virginia Hospital Center told them to do this.

"We estimate that the ambulance waited outside Virginia Hospital Center for 20 minutes before being redirected to Inova Fairfax Hospital," Marchegiani said.

Later that day, it was determined that the patient who had been turned away from the Virginia Hospital Center not only did not have Ebola, but that she did not even need to be tested for Ebola.

“A patient who presented to the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus Emergency Department for evaluation in relation to Ebola has not met the CDC criteria to be tested,” said a statement that Inova Fairfax released at 5:45 p.m. on Friday. “This decision came after the patient was immediately isolated and had undergone triage in consultation with the Fairfax County Health Department and Virginia State Health Department.”

The Arlington and Fairfax county health departments then issued a statement saying: “Based on the public health investigation, which included the travel history of a woman who became ill this morning in a Pentagon parking lot, and on questioning of her by medical staff, medical authorities are confident that she does not have Ebola.”

CNSNews.com asked Glen Barbour, spokesman for the Fairfax County Health Department, why the suspected Ebola patient had been turned away from Virginia Hospital Center (which is in Arlington County) and sent to Inova Fairfax Hospital. “I do not know why,” he said.

On Monday, CNSNews.com also sent the Virginia Hospital Center the Arlington County Fire Department's description of what happened when the department brought the suspected Ebola patient to the Virginia Hospital Center. CNSNews.com asked the hospital if it contested this description, and, if it did not contest it, to explain why the hospital had kept the suspected Ebola patient outside in an ambulance, had not examined her, and then had sent her on to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

CNSNews.com made repeated additional inquiries to the Virginia Hospital Center's Public Affairs Office on Tuesday--both by phone and email--but the hospital did not respond.

The current policy of the federal government is to permit people to travel to the United States from the three countries now experiencing an Ebola epidemic—Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone—without going through a quarantine period, so long as they are asymptomatic and do not say that they have been in contact with an Ebola victim.

According to the CDC, the virus has an incubation period of up to 21 days, and people who have been infected are not contagious until they begin to show symptoms of the disease.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said that health care workers all across the United States should “think Ebola” whenever dealing with someone who has a fever.

“One of the things that we're working hard to promote now is ensuring that doctors and nurses, pharmacists, health care workers throughout the health care system think Ebola in anyone who has fever and ask whether they have been in West Africa in the past 21 days,” Dr. Frieden said on Oct. 8, when it was announced that Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national, had died from Ebola in a Dallas hospital. “That's really important because that will help us ensure that if there is another patient who arrives; they're rapidly identified for their own sake, for their care and the community's sake to isolate them promptly."

After two nurses who cared for Duncan in Dallas were diagnosed with Ebola, the administration decided to begin screening people for symptoms of Ebola when they enter the U.S. from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone at five international airports. The government also decided to create special teams from the CDC that will be sent to U.S. health care facilities that encounter Ebola patients.

“The CDC's new Ebola rapid response teams will deploy quickly to help hospitals implement the right protocols,” President Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday.

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