How accurate, reliable information supports Ebola response

By Nick Alexopulos, '03

Faced with an especially severe flu season and the real, yet remote, threat of Ebola Virus Disease from the ongoing outbreak in West Africa, hospitals in the United States recognize their pandemic preparedness is likely to be tested in the coming months.

Central to that preparedness is personnel—the dedicated doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers who will be called on to respond, no matter the scale or the risk. To be successful, they need more than training and expertise.

The key is information, says George Everly, Ph.D., an affiliate professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland. Everly is an internationally recognized expert in psychological crisis intervention and author of 20 textbooks and more than 100 of professional papers on that topic, stress management, and resilience. Several of his papers focus on preparing for a pandemic.

Everly shared a snapshot of his knowledge with Loyola magazine.

How are healthcare workers impacted by information and messaging during the outbreak of a serious disease?

There is concern whenever healthcare workers face an unknown threat. Information is the key to reducing anxiety and improving compliance. There are reports of nurses calling in sick rather than treat Ebola patients. If true, this is likely a result of what they see as unreliable information that has been disseminated regarding the safe way to treat Ebola patients.

The willingness to respond within populations of healthcare workers to outbreaks such as Ebola is a critical factor in any community’s ability to rapidly and effectively respond. The early claims that nurses who were infected failed to properly handle the patients or the protective dressings were designed to reduce community “fear” by finding a reason for the spread. However, such claims angered and demoralized related healthcare workers. It is generally unwise to blame those upon which the health of the community rests.

What should be done to build confidence in healthcare workers and the public?

A reliable flow of accurate information to both healthcare workers and the community at large is essential. When previous information is found to be inaccurate, the errors must be disclosed and corrected—not hidden, nor “excuses” made.

In order for healthcare workers to put themselves “in harm’s way” and respond to outbreaks such as H1N1, SARS, and Ebola, it is helpful if they believe they can make a difference, that their families will be protected, and that they are receiving the best guidance available.

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George S. Everly, Jr., Ph.D., ABPP, FAPA, is considered one of the “founding fathers of the modern era of stress management.” He teaches at Loyola and at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and is a member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health Preparedness. He has served on the adjunct faculty of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the FBI’s National Academy at Quantico, Va. In addition, he is co-founder of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, a nonprofit United Nations-affiliated public health and safety organization. He can be reached by email at GEverly@loyola.edu.

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