Ebola concerns top headlines in health

Concerns about the Ebola virus spreading to Virginia topped health headlines in the second half of a year that also featured news on the launch of Valley Health’s EpicCare system and area treatment options for drug addiction, mental health and sexual assault or domestic violence.

Incidences of Americans contracting Ebola after visiting western Africa or coming into contact with infected individuals resulted in greater efforts by area health care professionals and first responders to prevent the spread of infectious disease in the Lord Fairfax Health District, which includes Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren.

At area hospitals, posted signs warn those presenting with Ebola symptoms (severe flu-like symptoms that develop within 21 days of having contact with symptomatic Ebola patients) to return to their cars and phone hospital staff, who will determine the severity of symptoms and treatment options.

During the fall, area clinics and Emergency Medical Services were trained to recognize symptomatic patients before transporting them to hospitals, and area emergency rooms have added Ebola drills to their routines.

Recommendations for area residents in helping prevent the spread of infectious disease include practicing proper hygiene, such as covering sneezes and coughs and washing hands before eating or caring for others.

Valley Health’s EpicCare patient records database launched last June was intended to help the health care system better serve patients in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and local West Virginia by simplifying the health care process.

The integrated system of documenting patient care allows medical personnel within the Valley Health system to access patient records and gives patients access to update their own records from an Internet connection at home.

EpicCare has joined Valley Health with about 50 percent of the nation’s other health care services including hospitals, clinics, family physicians and pharmacies in streamlining care for patients, who previously might have had to recount their health history every time they sought physician care.

But with every change comes hiccups, and Valley Health experienced its share of problems including long hospital waits in EpicCare’s first few days and a records breach following the June surgery of a Winchester patient who reported receiving someone else’s records mixed in with his.

Efforts by the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley increased area discussions of mental health’s impact on the community in part through the formation of the Mental Health Dialogue Project and a Community Impact Forum held at Shenandoah University last July.

Area residents and school students participated in national text messaging projects that poll participants on ways in which their communities can benefit from more services to help those struggling with mental health.

Following the suicide of actor Robin Williams on Aug. 11, area theaters raised awareness for area mental health efforts and raised funds for the Concern Hotline by showing Williams’ movies. The Concern Hotline serves Winchester and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah.

Drug addiction also became a main concern around the area this year following the heroin-related deaths of several area residents.

The long-awaited Winchester location of Addiction Recovery Systems location opened Nov. 26 at 210 Front Royal Pike, Winchester, and assists individuals overcoming various addictions through prescription medical treatment, one-on-one counseling and group counseling.

This year, area services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence increased to include The Phoenix Project in Warren County and a new website through Response of Woodstock.

The Laurel Center of Winchester, in partnership with the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, launched The Phoenix Project to provide services victims in Warren County.

Following the closure of Harmony Place last year, the Laurel Center has helped The Phoenix Project relaunch services for Warren County victims of assault by offering counseling services for those who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence.

Response’s new website, www.responseva.org, launched March 1, offers a shorter Web address and easier-to-navigate pages.

The site, which offers an emergency exit hotlink to divert visitors away from the page quickly, includes resources for recognizing signs of abuse and finding help around the community.

The Response hotline number is 540-459-5161. The Laurel Center hotline is 540-667-6466. The Phoenix Project hotline is 540-635-2300. Concern Hotline numbers by area are 540-667-0145 for Winchester, Frederick and Clarke, 540-743-3733 for Page County, 540-459-4742 for Shenandoah County and 540-635-4357 for Warren County.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com