A new, unim­proved Ebola czar

When tech­nocrats fail, Obama reaches for a bu­reau­crat

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

Liberian health care work­ers have threat­ened to strike un­less they re­ceive higher pay for work­ing with Ebola pa­tients. Their coun­ter­parts in Spain and in this coun­try are balk­ing at the idea of car­ing for Ebola pa­tients re­gard­less of the pay.

Mean­while, it’s es­ti­mated that more than 400 doc­tors, nurses and other care­givers have been in­fected in West Africa and that many of them have died. Two nurses in Dal­las are in­fected, and oth­ers are be­ing watched after com­ing into con­tact with Thomas Eric Dun­can, the Liberian now listed as our “pa­tient zero.” They may or may not sur­vive, but they know, as do all who risk in­fec­tion, that nearly 70 per­cent of those who con­tract Ebola will die a very un­pleas­ant death.

The courage of those who vol­un­teer to fight this deadly dis­ease is worth cel­e­brat­ing. Life-threat­en­ing calami­ties bring out the best as well as the worst in us. The sol­dier who throws him­self on a grenade to save his bud­dies, the New York po­lice­men who went into New York’s World Trade Cen­ter to try to bring out a few of the in­jured be­fore the tow­ers col­lapsed, the fire­man who rushes into a burn­ing build­ing to save those trapped inside, and the vol­un­teers who bat­tle Ebola here and in West Africa de­serve our re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion.

Some stare death in the face for the pay, but to most the pay is in­ci­den­tal. They do it be­cause they can and be­cause some­one must. When Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal strate­gist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile dis­mis­sively tweeted after Dal­las nurse Nina Pham con­tracted the dis­ease while car­ing for Dun­can that the “nurse in­fected with Ebola knew risks of her work,” she was only par­tially right. The nurse knew the risks and took on the work, but to dis­miss what hap­pened when she did sounds strangely like what we hear from those who dis­miss the in­juries our mil­i­tary per­son­nel suf­fer in war be­cause “they signed up for it.”

Nei­ther the sol­dier who goes to war nor the nurse who cares for an Ebola pa­tient should be re­quired to take on risks that might be avoided. The sol­dier who faces an armed en­emy de­serves the equip­ment and train­ing needed to in­crease his chances of sur­vival, and the health care worker asked to deal with deadly in­fec­tious dis­eases de­serves the same.

Those who vol­un­teer to serve in West Africa with Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders and sim­i­lar groups re­ceive ex­ten­sive train­ing and the best pro­tec­tion avail­able to pre­vent the spread of the dis­ease they are fight­ing. They know and ac­cept that the best equip­ment avail­able can fail, but trust that ev­ery­thing that can be done to pro­tect them is be­ing done.

Miss Pham no doubt trusted the “guid­ance” and “pro­to­cols” she was asked to follow by her su­pe­ri­ors and the folks at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol (CDC) when she went in to help Dun­can. That, it turns out, was a mis­take. Ac­cord­ing to her col­leagues, there were no “pro­to­cols” at the hos­pi­tal, and the guid­ance the health care work­ers re­ceived was what one might eu­phemisti­cally call in­ad­e­quate. From all re­ports, she did what she was asked to do to pro­tect her­self, and be­cause her guid­ance and the equip­ment pro­vided by those she trusted wasn’t much good, she didn’t “know” the ac­tual risks she was tak­ing.

The CDC is not what most Americans have trusted it to be for so many years. It’s just another gov­ern­ment agency that uses its funds to build palaces, re­ward in­sid­ers with lav­ish bonuses, and lobby for more while blam­ing oth­ers for its fail­ures. Like many large bu­reau­cra­cies, it has drifted from its core mis­sion and is con­tent in a self-sat­is­fied way to of­fer up clearly in­com­pe­tent and con­flict­ing ad­vice to a too-trust­ing pub­lic. An agency that can “mis­place” vials of deadly small­pox toxin and ap­prove an Ebola-symp­to­matic Am­ber Vin­son to board a plane in Dal­las and fly to Cleve­land and back is not an agency that can be trusted.

On Fri­day, Pres­i­dent Obama ap­pointed Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den’s chief of staff to be “Ebola czar” be­cause the CDC has lost the pub­lic’s trust and seems in­ca­pable of do­ing what it has re­ceived bil­lions of tax dol­lars to do. Ron Klain is a lawyer rather than a doc­tor, a loyal Obama man and, ac­cord­ing to those who know him, a good talker. Americans can be for­given if they, like the in­fected Dal­las nurses, thought we al­ready had an Ebola czar at the head of an agency ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing the coun­try in the event of a cri­sis such as the one we are deal­ing with to­day.

Ap­point­ing Mr. Klain is the sort of thing a po­lit­i­cal or pub­lic re­la­tions ad­viser might sug­gest to a pres­i­dent who wants to look as though he’s do­ing some­thing. Fix­ing the CDC, on the other hand, is a task for a real leader.

David A. Keene is opin­ion ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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