Penn State Hershey Medical Center designated to treat Ebola patients

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A Dauphin County hospital is preparing for the possibility of treating Ebola patients. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has designated Penn State Hershey Medical Center as an Ebola treatment center.

In a trailer set up outside of the hospital a staff member practices "donning" or taking off her protective equipment.

The process requires 25 steps, including an assistant who watches and goes over a checklist to make sure that every step is followed.

"The equipment can get contaminated as you are caring for a patient and so as you doff or take off the equipment you can contaminate yourself," said Dr. Cynthia Whitener, an infectious disease physician at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

The hospital is now one of four in the state picked to treat Ebola patients. The Health Department points out that there are no active cases of Ebola in Pennsylvania, but state and federal health officials say the hospital has the staff, equipment and resources to provide the long-term care if that is needed.

"Patients who get flown in from West Africa will more than likely be flown first to the designated sites such as Emory or Nebraska. If they develop a fever and need a place to go than this is where these people would go," said Dr. Whitener.

There are four rooms that have been chosen in the hospital where Ebola patients could be treated. "We have a very intricate emergency preparedness plan in place that involves over 30 departments in this institution and part of that is a transportation process that would allow us to transport a patient from this floor up to our Surgical Anesthesia Intensive Care Unit," said Scott Mickalonias, emergency preparedness program manager at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. "We have a team of five core individuals that meet twice a week to go over our planning and preparedness, and then there is a weekly briefing with all 30 departments, where we talk about current event related to Ebola."

"We felt as though it was our responsibility to do this for our community and we felt as though we had the expertise to accomplish this," said Dr. Whitener.

"You cannot be 100 percent sure but certainly we feel really good about the staff and the preparedness efforts that have taken place, and the training efforts that have been involved here. We have very dedicated staff," said Mickalonias.

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