Ebola Preparedness Cost Hospitals $360M Nationwide, Say RI Hospital Researchers

Mar 16, 2017

Rhode Island Hospital Ebola prep cart, standing by for potential cases.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island Hospital researchers say preparing for an infectious disease outbreak could be more efficient and cost-effective. That’s the conclusion of a new study that assessed the costs and benefits for hospitals of preparing to deal with potential Ebola cases during the 2014 outbreak.

The researchers surveyed 200 hospitals about what they spent on supplies – like protective clothing - and staff overtime. They found that nationwide hospitals spent a combined $361 million. Smaller hospitals with fewer resources tended to have spent more. But Rhode Island hospital pediatric infectious disease specialist and study co-author Dr. Michael Smit says coordinating hospitals’ efforts could have lightened their load.

“What happens is that you have these smaller hospitals that bear the brunt of this," Smit said. "Whereas if you would have a more centralized approach at a regional or national level, you have preparation and allocation of these resources. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Tom Frieden did a great job with what they had but unfortunately they were affected by a series of budget cuts.”

Smit says hospitals generally learned a lot from the preparation exercises. But he says investing more money up front in infectious disease outbreak prevention could help save money down the road. 

“If you put money in up front for a robust surveillance system, and for preparing for treatment and triage and isolation of patients like this, you’ll pay some more money up front, but you’re going to end up benefiting greatly from that on the back end," says Smit. "Whereas if you’re playing defense and waiting for it then you’re going to end up paying a lot of money to clean up messes that could have been prevented.”

Smit says a survey of 200 hospitals found smaller, under-resourced hospitals spent more on supplies and staff overtime than larger hospitals. He says a regional, coordinated approach to supply distribution and preparation would be better, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be facing cuts in funding to do just that. 

The research appears in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.