A Rhode Island doctor has just returned from Liberia where for three months he trained health care workers fighting the deadly Ebola virus. Dr. Timothy Flanigan is one of several Rhode Islanders who have traveled to the West African nation to fight the disease that the World Health Organization estimates to have killed some 6500 people.
Shortly after arriving back home, he sat down with me to talk about what he saw and where he sees hope.
Ebola continues to dominate headlines, across the nation and here in Rhode Island. This week the state’s hospitals began conducting Ebola preparedness exercises, and all eyes are on a nurse in Maine who defied a quarantine order. But for the thousands of Liberians living in Rhode Island, the real stories are unfolding, often tragically, back home. Now, many Liberians say the public’s fear of Ebola is affecting daily life.
The transmission of Ebola to two Texas nurses has raised concern among health care workers nationwide. And there are concerns as well in Rhode Island.
Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, Donna Policastro, says Rhode Island nurses are worried but well prepared for a potential Ebola outbreak. Policastro says the situation in Dallas has given nurses and hospital officials more reason to plan than panic.
Leaders in Rhode Island’s Liberian community are figuring how to deal with the Ebola outbreak that has just begun to reach U.S. shores. Many Liberians travel between the U.S. and the West African country. The state Department of Health is now asking members of the Liberian population to monitor friends and relatives for signs of symptoms. They're asking people to check their temperature at least twice a day.
Rhode Island has one of the largest Liberian communities in the country. Their homeland is at the center of the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa. Many Liberians living in Rhode Island have been working hard to help their compatriots back home with supplies and donations. Rhode Island Public Radio’s health care reporter Kristin Gourlay speaks with one of them, Henrietta White-Holder, founder of an organization called Higher Ground International.
Rhode Island health department officials do not expect to see any Ebola cases in the state. But they’re preparing anyway.
Rhode Island’s health department director Dr. Michael Fine says his agency knows how to handle an infectious disease outbreak. And one of the first lines of defense against Ebola includes health care workers and hospitals.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that everyone understands what they have to do should a traveler come here from an endemic area," said Fine.
Liberians living in Rhode Island rallied on the steps of the Statehouse today to draw attention to the Ebola outbreak that’s killed more than 900 people in West Africa. They're seeking donations to send to Liberia to help stop the spread of the disease.
Dozens showed up to march and chant, holding signs that read “Ebola Be Gone” and “no new cases.” Then they gathered on the steps of the Statehouse, cheering on speakers from the Liberian community. Among them was CCRI student Fanta Yah. She says her family is safe so far from the Ebola virus. But of course, she’s worried.