As hospitals scramble to properly prepare for any further outbreaks of the Ebola virus in the United States, they are bumping up against the inevitable barrier: cost. Hospitals are finding that merely preparing for the narrow possibility of treating an Ebola patient can cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The costs can come on quickly, even if a hospital may be treating a patient who is only suspected of having Ebola. That was case at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Its costs included $100,000 for personal protective equipment, $8,000 to $10,000 for heavy plastic sheeting, payments for specialized medical waste removal, and overtime for the nursing staff and other hospital employees.
"There were major categories of costs and expenses above and beyond what we'd necessarily have for any other patient," Chris Ruder, vice president of patient care services at the hospital, told the Kansas City Star. "For example, everything the physicians and nurses wore when they went into the patient's room was completely disposable. And we had six nurses at any one time taking care of that one patient--a twelvefold increase in nursing care instead of the usual one nurse taking care of two patients in the ICU--plus physicians and a dedicated infectious disease team. The ratio of human resource to one patient was exorbitantly higher."
At hospitals in the Lower Hudson Valley region in New York, the cost of preparing for a potential Ebola patient could be $500,000 or more, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported. Nyack Hospital put the price tag of preparation at between $250,000 and $500,000. The cost at Westchester Medical Center is up to $700,000 for the creation of a containment area to safely treat an Ebola patient.
Those hospitals are likely moving to a higher state of alert after reports of a Manhattan emergency room physician who was diagnosed with Ebola after treating infected patients in western Africa. At the same time, hospitals that do not properly prepare for Ebola cases are at risk for taking a financial hit if they must treat a patient and it is not handled well.