By Ray Birch
DALLAS—Credit unions are monitoring the potential spread of Ebola in the U.S., but apparently most are not yet taking action—not even the CU that serves the hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan died of the virus earlier this month.
But CUToday.info has learned at least one credit union has updated portions of its contingency plan related to a flu pandemic to now include Ebola. Meanwhile, another CEO said he’s more concerned with fears over Ebola than he is the deadly disease itself.
The $17-million Texas Health Resources CU serves Presbyterian Hospital here, which has been under scrutiny for its handling of Duncan, a Liberian who became the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States. Duncan died of the virus at the hospital Oct. 8. Two of the hospital’s healthcare workers have been infected.
Despite Texas Health having an office inside Presbyterian Hospital, CEO Suzanne Chism said she has no concerns about Ebola impacting the CU’s operations, staff or its members. Asked by CUToday.info if the credit union was planning to take special precautions, Chism said Ebola was “not affecting us at all.”
All of the CU’s three branches have remained open.
Ebola Spread "Remote"
Chism said she considered the possibility of staff or members being infected by Ebola as “remote.”
A spokesperson from the Cornerstone CU League, here, which noted that it was not aware of any credit union making plans to address Ebola, said Presbyterian Hospital asked all organizations related to the hospital, including THRCU, not to speak with the media.
East of Dallas, one credit union does plan to take action. According to the League of Southeastern CUs, one of its member credit unions has updated an existing policy on flu pandemics to address Ebola and has taken the plan to its board.
In Harrisburg, Penn., Mike Wishnow, SVP of the Pennsylvania CU Association, pointed out that all credit unions are required to have a disaster recovery plan, according to safety and soundness regulations.
“Such a plan should include illnesses and contagious viruses,” he said. “Most recently, credit unions had made preparedness strategies for avian flu, which fortunately were never needed to be executed. I’m told plans for an Ebola scenario, while not exactly the same, would be similar.”
The Ohio CU League, Columbus, Ohio, it taking a similar view, saying it has not heard of any specific credit unions developing plans to address Ebola.
“But this potential epidemic is just a wrinkle in an already existing problem,” said Kimberly Stewart, consumer outreach coordinator. “The majority of credit unions already have a pandemic preparedness and response policy in place. These plans are focused on the threat posed by viruses—for example, H5N1 a few years ago—that evolve into a pandemic.”
In Madison, Wis., CUNA Mutual Group told CUToday.info it has not fielded any inquiries from CUs regarding insurance coverage concerns related to Ebola. "But we are certainly monitoring this evolving situation," said Phil Tschudy, media relations manager, who added he does feel CUs are paying close attention to the situation.
Concern Over U.S. Panic
Despite the Centers for Disease Control’s efforts to train hospitals and healthcare workers to manage the virus, concerns exist that panic could spell economic trouble.
“Your guess on Ebola is as good as anyone’s,” Dwight Johnston, chief economist for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, Ontario, Calif., told CUToday.info. “Most likely this scare will fade away like all the previous epidemic scares. But there are some nightmare scenarios that aren’t impossible. Any businesses in travel and leisure are in the most jeopardy. But even retailers in the malls of America would be hit. Energy, auto sales, and basically anything that requires getting out into the public would be hurt. I don’t see it, but we just have to let this one play out.”
Brad Beal, CEO at One Nevada CU in Las Vegas, acknowledged that this is a “difficult issue. I am not minimizing the situation. But I don’t worry about Ebola as much as I worry about the fear of Ebola—how people react to the perceived problem. This nation has the capability to deal with Ebola if it gets on the ball and is smart about it. If everyone keeps their heads we can address this thing before it gets out of hand.”