By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, Oct. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Only about 6 percent of American hospitals have infection control procedures in place to effectively and safely handle Ebola patients, a new survey reveals.
Of the 1,039 acute care hospitals that responded to the survey, about 6 percent said they were "well-prepared," and about 5 percent said they were "not prepared," according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).
"The results of the poll paint a disturbing picture, and point to an urgent need to bolster infection prevention resources in health care facilities," Katrina Crist, CEO of APIC, said during a noon press conference.
"The recent Ebola outbreak and the specter of other serious infectious diseases and antibiotic-resistant superbugs are another example of why infection prevention programs are critical to our nation's health care facilities," she said.
Crist said that not enough is being done to protect patients and health care workers.
According to the survey, the majority of hospitals (40 percent) said they were "somewhat prepared."
Hospitals surveyed ranged in size from fewer than 100 beds to more than 400.
The survey also found that only 51 percent of the hospitals had a full-time infection control expert on staff. These specialists are trained in identifying the source of infections and in stopping their spread in the hospital.
Of hospitals that said they had no such specialist or only one on staff, 4 percent claimed to be "well-prepared" to handle Ebola patients, the survey found.
Among hospitals with 11 or more infection specialists, 31 percent said they were prepared to deal with Ebola patients.
Speaking at the press briefing, APIC President Jennie Mayfield said, "This survey confirms our belief that many hospitals do not have enough staff dedicated to infection prevention and control."
APIC wants hospitals to beef up their procedures to handle Ebola patients. This includes staffing to ensure that properly trained infection control experts are present. In addition, the group is calling for rigorous training to ensure guidelines are followed at all times and that proper equipment is available.
Linda Greene, a member of APIC's regulatory review panel, said, "The current crisis really sheds light on how critically important properly resourced infection prevention programs are."
David Sanders, an associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue University who has been working on Ebola for a decade, said earlier that most hospitals are not prepared -- and don't need to be prepared -- to deal with the specialized isolation procedures that Ebola patients require.
Instead, he advocates that Ebola patients who are seen at hospitals not fully equipped and trained to deal with the virus should be immediately transferred to hospitals that are prepared.
"I do not think that most places have the training. They may have the infection-control equipment, but they don't have the training to deal with this type of infectious disease," he said.
Greene disagreed. Every hospital in the United States needs to be able to identify and isolate Ebola patients, she said.
"From there, it might be more judicious to send those patients to regional centers," she said. "But don't forget that an Ebola patient can walk into any emergency department, and therefore we must be prepared to do an initial assessment and treatment until transfer arrangements can be made."