Business of Well-being

Corporate Wellness and Common Sense: A Response to False Worries About Ebola

Corporate wellness is, at its essence, a term that encapsulates the promotion of good health and the distribution of accurate information. The latter is critical in a workplace, where, because of the instantaneous and often erroneous reportage about certain illnesses, employees can unintentionally spread one virus in an attempt to stop another.

With all the conjecture and false assertions that populate the World Wide Web, in which hearsay divides and distorts itself with every tweet, email or Facebook post, as the barely credible assumes incredible proportions; with the circulation of one news story, and its subsequent recirculation (in seconds) across social media, any hope of civil discussion dissolves into nothing but fuel for an ever-growing virus propelled by fear and sensationalism.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more severe, and nowhere does it threaten to undermine employee morale with such hysteria, than in the controversy surrounding Ebola and preparedness by America's hospitals to address this threat. Let me, therefore, state - on behalf of the principles of corporate wellness and scientific legitimacy - that we have nothing (or close to nothing) to fear concerning Ebola.

Its spread, in the States, is nothing of the sort, despite partisan claims to the contrary and efforts to depict our best hospitals as incubators of disease and death. I write these words from experience, both as a biochemist and as a voice of caution, amidst the white noise and chaos that (sadly) exists in the absence of any genuine health crisis.

Which is to say, while we should never worsen an already chaotic situation or infuse a set of challenging circumstances with a feeling of chaos (no matter how commensurate our emotional reaction is to a deadly plague or virus), we must let reason triumph over fear.

Any suggestion, therefore, that the same hospitals and emergency rooms that treat people suffering from highly infectious diseases and contagious viruses like, respectively, tuberculosis, malaria and influenza; the accusation that doctors and nurses do not have the training and equipment, never mind their cumulative years of practice and ready use of surgical masks and gloves and their ability to place a patient in an isolation unit on a quarantined floor - the suggestion itself is an affront to the nation's health care professionals, an attack against the ideals of corporate wellness and an assault against common sense.

And yet, a single special interest group, National Nurses United (NNU), the name is an oxymoron, continues to assert that hospitals cannot handle - and nurses should not treat - patients who may have Ebola.

An Abdication of Leadership: Let Nurses Heal the Sick, Not Passively Harm the Public

My interest in this subject is far from academic because NNU has a political agenda. They want to expand their membership, which they are free to pursue, as they simultaneously extract concessions (in California) from Kaiser Permanente, an integrated managed care consortium.

NNU also wants a single-payer health care system, as it maintains its battle against the use of electronic medical records, in addition to the group's opposition to flu vaccines for nurses. These items are conflicts resolved through democratic tools, not demagogic rhetoric.

But NNU conflates these forces, devaluing the resources for the people into a campaign to wage war by the people against that most vulnerable of enemies: Themselves. For, if we indulge the temptation to believe that hospitals do not have the resources doctors and nurses need to treat a rare (in the States) virus that is much less deadly than a typical case of flu, well, we might as well succumb to superstition and the wholesale suspension of disbelief.

We have the means and materiel - we have the resolve, too - for facts to best opinions.Best of all, we can inoculate ourselves with the truth against the virus of misinformation and fear. For the good of corporate wellness, and on behalf of those who choose to do good by doing what is right, we must act - now!

*A postscript: I welcome increased funding from Congress, to combat Ebola and other serious medical conditions, because we can never have too many lifesaving tools at our disposal. I only ask that we approach this matter with the objectivity it deserves, and the sobriety it demands of any and all health care professionals.

About the Author

Michael D. Shaw is an MIT-trained biochemist and former protege of the late Willard Libby, the 1960 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Based in the Greater Washington (DC) Area, Michael is a frequent writer and speaker about a variety of public health issues.

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