Patient with Ebola virus being brought to med center

by Taylor Wilson, The Nebraska Medical Center | September 05, 2014

Image with caption: From left, Mark Rupp, M.D., Phil Smith, M.D., and Angela Hewlett, M.D., discuss The Nebraska Medical Center's readiness to safely treat a U.S. citizen who has been diagnosed with Ebola.

From left, Mark Rupp, M.D., Phil Smith, M.D., and Angela Hewlett, M.D., discuss The Nebraska Medical Center's readiness to safely treat a U.S. citizen who has been diagnosed with Ebola.

The U.S. State Department has asked for assistance from The Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in caring for an American doctor who was working in West Africa when he tested positive for the Ebola virus.

Officials expect this patient to arrive in Omaha Friday morning and to begin treatment in the Biocontainment Patient Care Unit located inside The Nebraska Medical Center.

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UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., addresses reporters at Thursday's press conference.

"This unit was specifically designed to care for patients of this nature and is staffed with infectious disease experts who have prepared for years for situations like this one," said Phil Smith, M.D., medical director of the Biocontainment Unit. "The unit is sealed, guarded and secure. It's separate from other patient care areas, and just like the facility at Emory University, which successfully treated two Americans with Ebola last month, we are uniquely prepared to handle infectious diseases here."

Along with the med center's 10-bed Biocontainment Unit, there are only three other similar facilities in the United States. The list includes the unit at Emory University in Atlanta that is operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana.

"We want everyone to know that every precaution is being taken in transporting this patient here and caring for them once they arrive," said Angela Hewlett, M.D., associate medical director of the Biocontainment Unit. "This is one of the safest places in the country for this patient to be treated, both for the public and for the medical professionals providing care."

"There are strict guidelines in place to ensure staff members who work in the unit are protected," said Dr. Smith, a professor of infectious diseases at UNMC. "Staff members have drilled on a routine basis to prepare for something like this since the unit opened in 2005. The unit is equipped with a special air-handling system to ensure that microorganisms don't spread beyond the patient rooms, with high-level filtration for additional protection. A dunk tank for lab specimens and a pass-through autoclave help assure that hazardous materials are decontaminated before leaving the unit." "We understand that some people might have questions about why this patient is coming here instead of Emory, where the first two patients were treated," added Dr. Hewlett, a UNMC assistant professor of infectious diseases.

"We are doing this at the request of the U.S. State Department. The fact is, handling the Ebola outbreak is a marathon, not a sprint. We didn't request that a patient be brought here, but having the unique ability to care for this patient will only serve to build up our national resiliency in treating other similar patients in the future."

The unit has been activated once since it opened, for a case that turned out to be malaria. However, it is frequently used for training and as additional space for patients during times when the hospital is near capacity.

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Dee-El J. Dawe
September 05, 2014 at 7:06 PM

We are proud of UNMC and confident that our health care providers will give their all to this patient. UNMC HAS THE BEST CARE anywhere! No doubts, no worries, our UNMC CREW HAS GOT THIS!

John Keenan, UNMC Today Editor
September 05, 2014 at 1:42 PM

We welcome comments, but going forward, no comments will be posted without a full name and correct email address, as required by the comment form.

UNMC Today Editor
September 05, 2014 at 8:19 AM

"We understand that some people might have questions about why this patient is coming here instead of Emory, where the first two patients were treated," said Angela Hewlett, M.D., associate medical director of the Biocontainment Unit. "We are doing this at the request of the U.S. State Department. The fact is, handling the Ebola outbreak is a marathon, not a sprint. We didn't request that a patient be brought here, but having the unique ability to care for this patient will only serve to build up our national resiliency in treating other similar patients in the future."