The number of reported cases of coronavirus climbed to 24,000 on Wednesday, a total that includes a newborn baby in China who was infected 30 hours after birth and an adult in Wisconsin, according to media reports.
As health officials work to gather more information about the spread of the virus, behavioral healthcare and addiction treatment providers should engage with local emergency preparedness organizations, know what a proper response entails, and plan and practice it accordingly, says Beth Keeney, senior vice president for community health and primary care services for LifeSpring Health Systems.
The Jeffersonville, Indiana-based LifeSpring was recognized in 2018 for its response to an HIV outbreak of more than 200 new cases in Scott County.
“The first thing we need to be aware of is that vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by infectious disease in any type of emergency,” Keeney tells BHE. “It’s really critical that the social safety net is prepared. Whether it’s influenza, some sort of pandemic or environmental emergency, we need to be prepared to act quickly.”
Keeney says providers eying the coronavirus outbreak should rely on information and guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and their state health department. She also advocates following simple infectious control guidelines, including:
- Making masks available in waiting rooms during cold and flu season
- Posting good hand hygiene signs in bathrooms
- Having hand sanitizer available and easily accessible
- Encouraging patients and clients to engage in evidence-based practices, such as following the vaccination schedule established by CDC
On its website, WHO has published technical guidance for providers that includes best practices for infection prevention and control in healthcare facilities, as well as patient management. CDC has put out its own interim guidance for healthcare professionals.
“When we’re talking about vulnerable populations, whether it’s routine care or specialized, our folks have complex health issues and needs, and that requires us to step it up,” Keeney says. “While we’re not sure if coronavirus is something we’ll be directly addressing, it does require us to make sure we’re on top of our game right now. I would encourage everyone to take a look at their organizational practices and make sure they’re doing all they can for their patients and clients.”