Fighting Ebola

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A local man made a global impact when he was sent to the front lines to fight the Ebola virus in Africa.

Dale Bates, recently returned from an overseas mission to Liberia, where he helped establish a field hospital tasked with providing care for health care workers who contracted the Ebola virus.

Mr. Bates has lived in the area for 20 years, working first for the Benewah Medical Center and now for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Dale Bates in the supply area of the hospital he helped establish in Liberia to care for health care workers who had contracted the Ebola virus.

Dale Bates in the supply area of the hospital he helped establish in Liberia to care for health care workers who had contracted the Ebola virus.

His job entails monitoring grant-funded projects for community health centers, occasionally (once a year) it involves field work, where he is deployed to an area for public health disaster relief work.

Mr. Bates is part of a national force of more than 6,800 Commissioned Officers in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS).

“We all have a day job but we are also part of a deployable health force that provides emergency response to public health needs,” he said.

In the 19 years he has worked for the USPHS, Mr. Bates has been deployed to a number of locations including the east coast after Hurricane Katrina, the Mexican border, Liberia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Columbia, Haiti and Nicaragua.

“They are usually very unexpected calls,” he said. “I was standing in a stream north of Anchorage, Ala. fishing when I got the call to go to Liberia.”

Mr. Bates was in a team of 65 people tasked with taking a military-grade clinical care unit and turning it into a place to care for international and Liberian health care workers who had contracted the Ebola virus.

The group left for Liberia mid-October and returned in January.

Mr. Bates official duties included logistics and supply at the 25-bed hospital, but conditions made it necessary for him to assist with a variety of duties. He not only worked in supply, but infection control, safety, medical, lab, housekeeping, pharmacy, facilities, dietary and bug control.

Dale Bates suited up for work in the ward at an Ebola treatment facility in Liberia.

Dale Bates suited up for work in the ward at an Ebola treatment facility in Liberia.

In his two months at the facility, Mr. Bates was able to spend less than two days away from his duties. The team ate ready-to-eat meals (MREs) and took turns working 12-hour shifts, commuting an hour each way from their living quarters and napping about five hours before returning to the hospital. They lived and worked in temperatures of 90 degrees with high humidity and lots of rain.

“Most of our equipment and supplies didn’t arrive until a week before we left, so we had to get really creative and make due with what we could find,” he said. “We had to make a lot of our own supplies and even some of our medicine had to be hand mixed.”

The nature of the virus made even basic tasks arduous.

“It took an hour just to take out the garbage, because you had to put on a suit, collect the garbage from two patient wards and then decontaminate before removing the suit each time,” Mr. Bates said.

The crew used large quantities of chlorine to disinfect everything and burned everything that came out of the wards where patients were kept.

“The chlorine vapors were incredible and it took a month for the bottom of my feet to heal from the chlorine that gathered in my boots,” Mr. Bates said. “It was certainly not comfortable, but we just had to suck it up. Chlorine is very effective at killing the virus, but it only takes a few to become infected.”

Approximately 60 percent of the patients who were admitted survived the virus.

“Just the fact that we had patients recover from Ebola and go back to the workforce to keep at it is a phenomenal accomplishment,” Mr. Bates said. “We didn’t have our first patient discharge for three weeks. We were all getting tired, and working for weeks in difficult conditions, but the moment the first patient put his handprint on that survivor board made it all worth it.”

Upon their arrival, 500 new cases of the virus was discovered each week. The week the team returned, that number had dropped to 100, and there were just four in Liberia last week. As of Jan. 28 the World Health Organization reported that 22,000 people had been infected with Ebola and 8,795 had died in three countries in western Africa.

“They have been successful in getting people into treatment and better at identifying patients with potential exposure,” Mr. Bates said. “The government has also done a good job at influencing the culture’s funeral traditions and convincing people not to have contact with the bodies of those who have died from the virus.”

Mr. Bates said this assignment was the most physically challenging deployment of his career. Their training involved teaching them to protect themselves and each person was screened for emotional strength.

The team was hand-selected by the Office of the Surgeon General.

“It is quite an honor to have been included,” Mr. Bates said. “You do your job a lot of times but this is one of those deployments where you really knew you were representing the U.S. and American people. Everyone on that team was the right choice. They all handled it well. It was the most incredible experience of our lives, and one that we hope to never have to repeat.”

The goal is to turn the hospital over to the Liberian government by late spring or summer.

Mr. Bates lives in St. Maries with his wife Sue, who is a maternal and child health nurse at the Benewah Medical Center. Together they have three grown children.

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