Some Republican lawmakers questioned recently whether emergency responders have the training and resources to handle a potential Ebola outbreak in Missouri.
There are no reported cases of Ebola in the state, but senators during a public forum at the capitol drilled health department officials on what they’re doing to prevent and prepare for a case of the virus.
“I’m hoping that we’re kind of at the front end of this and that this is a wake-up call for a lot of people,” Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia said, “because the severity of this can’t be written off by saying, ‘We don’t have any (cases) in Missouri.'”
Gail Vasterling, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, told lawmakers that local health agencies have been informed of federally recommended protocols to deal with suspected cases. She said regional training is planned to teach healthcare workers how to put on protective gear, among other things.
She said the department is planning to survey hospitals and other local agencies to see whether they have the proper equipment to treat Ebola patients.
And last week, a Jefferson City lab was granted federal approval to presumptively test for the virus.
Still, Schaefer criticized the health department for what he called a “flippant” response to the illness.
Republicans throughout the public forum blasted Nixon, a Democrat, and the health department for not taking advantage of emergency powers in response to an Ebola threat. The lawmakers questioned why the state does not have a plan for what to do with Ebola medical waste if there is a case in Missouri, and some senators also questioned Vasterling’s lack of a science background.
Schaefer said he wants state-issued restrictions on travel to Missouri from the countries hit hardest by Ebola, but later he told The Associated Press that restrictions on the state level would be difficult to implement. The suggestion echoed those of some federal lawmakers, particularly Republicans, who have called upon President Barack Obama to ban travel to the U.S. from countries dealing with Ebola outbreaks.
A spokesman for the governor declined to comment.
Despite criticism, Vasterling defended the department’s preparations and noted that there have been no reported Ebola cases in Missouri.
“This is not an easily (spreadable) virus,” she said.