LAS VEGAS » U.S. hospitals aren’t ready for an Ebola outbreak, according to nurses who staged a "die-in" Wednesday outside a Las Vegas Strip resort where they were holding a union convention.
Many protesters in the crowd of about 1,000 who attended the Planet Nurse convention wore bright red T-shirts and suits resembling hazardous-materials gear as they streamed through the Planet Hollywood casino floor before crossing Las Vegas Boulevard to the Bellagio resort.
Ebola "can easily come to our shores, and we’re not ready," said Julia Scott, a registered nurse from Largo Medical Center in Florida who was attending the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United convention.
At the sound of a gong, Scott and dozens of other protesters dropped to the sidewalk in front of the iconic Bellagio fountain, where others used chalk to outline their "dead" bodies, writing the hashtag #StopEbolaRNRN inside the tracings.
It was followed by a moment of silence for international health workers who have died while caring for Ebola patients in West Africa.
"It’s not acceptable that these people are dying," RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, told her fellow protestors.
U.S. policymakers are in denial, DeMoro said. "It is going to come here," she said.
Union representatives called the protest a "die-in." They pointed to a recent case of a patient tested for Ebola at a northern California hospital.
In that case, the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center ruled out the Ebola virus. Union nurses complained the patient was in contact with health workers in a public waiting area for about a half-hour.
Dr. Stephen M. Parodi, an infectious-disease specialist and hospital operations director for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said in a statement Wednesday that as soon as Ebola was suspected, the hospital began to inform its entire staff.
"From triage and until it became clear that there was no Ebola infection involved, we took all appropriate precautions, following CDC guidelines, to protect the safety of everyone at our South Sacramento hospital," he said.
Roslyne Schulman, policy director for the American Hospital Association, said the group’s members have been encouraged to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations on infectious diseases such as Ebola.
"Hospitals are prepared to handle a broad range of infectious diseases. When there is a potential risk for particular infections in communities — such as Ebola — hospitals alert their clinical staff to increase surveillance for symptoms and risk factors associated with the specific disease," she said in an emailed statement.
The federal Centers for Disease Control announced Tuesday that the number of Ebola cases in Africa could grow from an estimated 21,000 now to 1.4 million in just two African countries by January. Four Americans have been or are being treated for Ebola in the U.S. after evacuation from Africa.
Valerie Loza, a protester and registered nurse at Mountainview Hospital in Las Vegas, said she feared local hospitals wouldn’t be ready if Ebola reached the city.
"I’m the first line of defense," she said. "You don’t know what could happen here."