Duke University Hospital doctor talks about response to possible Ebola case

DURHAM (WTVD) -- On Wednesday, the patient in isolation since Sunday being monitored for Ebola was given the all clear to go home. On Thursday, ABC11 talked to the Duke University Hospital personnel in charge of the case.

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Dr. Thomas Owen is the Chief Medical Officer and Vice President for Medical Affairs for Duke University Healthcare System. He said he took the call Sunday morning when state health care leaders reached out to ask if they would take the case.

"I'll admit when I first answered the call, of course your first response is shock and surprise," said Owen, considering there were so few cases in the U.S, and a first for North Carolina.

In deciding to take the case, Owen said there was no question. He said he and his staff have been preparing for this possibility for months.

"My initial reaction was, fortunately through preparation, to follow a series of steps to activate a large number of individuals, over 40 team members at Duke who came together within 90 minutes to prepare to open our contained unit and to have staff ready to deliver care," said Owen.

From Sunday to Wednesday, his staff of designated doctors and nurses worked their usual 12 hour shifts, but while wearing protective gear and working in buddy systems. Staff teamed up to make sure protective gear was put on and taken off properly. They also utilized a buddy system during all procedures, double checking every step and precaution to ensure the patient's safety, their safety and the public's safety.

"I don't think we fully appreciated how demanding it would be to do that, for a 12 hour shift example, which is what most of our staff, physicians, nurses do when they're caring for patients," said Owen.

In fact, he said that is what they learned the most from this experience, is how to tweak their plan when it comes to their staff.

"We're delivering care in a different way because of that maintained environment," said Owen. "Even after this short period of time we realized those long shifts in this environment takes a real toll on the staff and as we look forward if we were to have more patients at risk for Ebola, we would probably need to staff the unit differently, potentially shorter shifts and more staff involved, we're looking out for their best interest too."

One of the better takeaways from the experience, Owen said, was the response from all the other patients at the hospital. He said once they learned what was going on in the hospital; they expressed trust in the staff.

As far as the patient and his family, Owen said it was all hugs and handshakes when that second Ebola test came out negative and it was time to go home.

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