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The N3 team.At the Northwest News Network it has been our honor to bring you stories that matter in 2014. We look forward to serving you in 2015 and beyond.-- Phyllis, Anna, Chris, Jessica, Tom and Austin

Small Towns Across The Northwest Scramble To Get Ready For Ebola

Anna King
Northwest News Network

Small-town hospitals and clinics across the Northwest are scrambling to prepare for Ebola.

Melissa Farris, the head infection-control nurse at the PMH Medical Center in Prosser, Washington, said the moment she knew her staff needed to get ready was when two Texas health-care workers were infected with Ebola last month.

Farris flipped off the news, and kicked into action.

‘A pretty complicated process’

“The next day we came in and sat down and said this is what we need to make sure we have on hand and available and and we need to make sure the staff know how to use them,” Farris said. “It was something that we weren’t overly prepared for, not the way that we should have been. So it was eye opening.”

Getting all of the necessary protective gear on is laborious. And getting it all off is even trickier. You have to hold the suit’s zipper just right, drop equipment to the floor without bumping it against you and most importantly, stay calm.

“It’s harder than it looks,” said a laughing Tina Glockner, a nurse at the Prosser hospital.

And it looks pretty darn hard. Laughing relieves the tension, but i’s not that the nurses aren’t taking the exercise seriously. They’re nervous.

Not everybody on the staff has gone through all the training, but we are in the process of doing that.

“It’s a pretty complicated process as far as keeping the staff safe,” said Connie Koal from the Pullman hospital. “But like I said we’ve been practicing that. And I believe that, that we could do that. Not everybody on the staff has gone through all the training, but we are in the process of doing that.”

Other hospitals don’t have the right style of protective equipment yet, or have more on order. On Monday, Washington state plans to release a list of eight hospitals that will act as regional centers with higher-levels-of-care for Ebola patients.

Across the Columbia River in Pendleton, Oregon, Larry Blanc said smaller Northwest hospitals like St. Anthony might not be ready to care for Ebola patients long-term, but they are self-reliant to handle crisis. He cited a day a couple of years back when a bus full of Korean tourists crashed on ice just outside of town.

“We handled over 40 patients in our old facility. And not one patient died in our hospital,” Blanc said. “Many of them we had to transfer out.”

’That’s a risk that we take’

Still, according to Washington’s top infectious disease doctor, Scott Lindquist, Washington state’s government would be overloaded with just a few active Ebola cases. He said, more than four or five and things would break down.

But what Lindquist really worries about are small urgent care clinics and doctors’ offices -- country or city. He said it only takes one mismanaged Ebola case to create havoc.

And Farris said Ebola symptoms look just like the flu, so it’s going to be a long, hard winter.

But the nurses undergoing training in Prosser said they are all in.

“It’s just something that we as a healthcare provider know that that’s a risk that we take,” Glockner said. “But that’s the career we choose.”

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.