10/21/2014 04:09 EDT | Updated 12/21/2014 05:59 EST

Hospitals in five B.C. regions to assess, treat Ebola patients: health minister

VICTORIA - British Columbia has designated five hospitals throughout the province to handle patients at risk of having Ebola and treat confirmed cases, in the unlikely event that the virus appears in the province.

Health Minister Terry Lake said Tuesday that the Ebola Preparedness task force reviewed response protocols and made recommendations, including the five regional centres.

The hospitals are Surrey Memorial, Kelowna General, Royal Jubilee in Victoria, University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George and B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver, which would deal with all pediatric cases.

"These sites will be the focus of training for staff on the protocols for health-care workers who would be engaged with a confirmed patient or a patient under investigation," Lake said in a statement.

"Emergency-room and front-line staff at all other health-care facilities are also being trained to receive, isolate and triage any symptomatic individual of interest with risk of exposure to Ebola."

As part of the task force review, the guidelines for personal protective equipment for health-care staff are being revised based on advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Lake said.

Last week the B.C. Nurses Union sent a letter to the presidents of five provincial health authorities, urging immediate implementation of training and precautions in the event of an Ebola virus outbreak.

"Your health authority is not ready to respond to cases of Ebola," union president Gayle Duteil wrote Oct. 14. "On paper things may look good, however we have been canvassing our members on designated units who advise on the ground that is simply not the case."

Nurses had not been trained in care protocols or advised on the proper use of safety equipment, she said.

An epidemic of the virus has killed more than 4,500 in West African in recent months and a single person died in Texas earlier this month after travelling from West Africa to the United States.

There has not been a case of Ebola in Canada but preparations have begin across the country for the low possibility a case surfaces.

"Nothing like Ebola has ever come into Canada and we will absolutely insist on all the precautions that need to be taken to protect nurses," Duteil said in an interview on Tuesday.

She said she was pleased with the measures announced by Lake but more must be done. All nurses must be trained and have access to the best protective equipment, she said.

That's not happened yet.

"Preparedness is the key to this virus. You do not deal with Ebola once it's arrived at your hospital door. You deal with it before," Duteil said. "There is no time to waste."

Lake said equipment to be provided to staff include full body suits, long gowns and level-4 hoods, as well as face shields, surgical masks and respirator masks.

Protocols will include a buddy system where one staff member will observe the other donning and removing protective equipment to ensure there is no risk for self-contamination, as per national recommendations.

With the Ebola crisis still unfolding in West Africa, the task force will hold a weekly telephone conference with the nurses' union and other involved groups, such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Hospital Employees' Union, to discuss Ebola preparedness, Lake said.

-- By Dene Moore in Vancouver

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version reported Royal Jubilee Hospital was in New Westminster.