Regents approve planning for training facility at UNMC

The Negatively Pressurized Conex training unit will be housed in the Infectious Diseases Air Transport Training Facility when the facility is completed. From left, Lt. Col. Elizabeth Schnaubelt, MD, Chris Kratochvil, MD, UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, Maj. Tiffany Welsh, Bob Valentine, Maj. Felecia Craddieth, Maj. John McClain, MD.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents Friday (Dec. 1) approved moving forward with planning for an infectious diseases air transport training facility at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The Infectious Diseases Air Transport Training Facility (IDAT) will be a new free-standing building on an existing UNMC parking lot on the south edge of the Omaha campus. 

In collaboration with internationally recognized experts, the up to $20 million facility will establish biocontainment patient transport training to safely and effectively care for patients with high consequence infectious diseases.

“UNMC has a long history of partnering with the U.S. Department of Defense and other federal agencies to manage patients with high consequence infectious diseases,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD. “Our work was front and center during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa when we cared for patients in our biocontainment unit. We have continued to serve our nation in regard to emergency preparedness and infectious diseases, and this training facility will further build our nation’s training capability.”

Since its founding in 2018, the Air Force Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (C-STARS) Omaha, has been a partner with UNMC’s Global Center for Health Security in planning, exercising and responding to high consequence infectious diseases events. C-STARS Omaha is a training program through the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine or USAFSAM, in collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. USAFSAM is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing. Over the years, the partners have:

  • Evaluated the Transport Isolation System (TIS), first developed during the West Africa Ebola outbreak, to provide aeromedical evacuation for individuals exposed to or infected with high consequence infectious diseases;
  • Developed procedures and just-in-time training to support first operational missions of the TIS for COVID-19;
  • Collaborated with a team of teams on the development of the Negatively Pressurized Conex (NPC) and NPC-Lite for high capacity COVID-19 patient movement; and
  • Evaluated use of the NPC/NPC-Lite for aeromedical evacuation of patients affected by high consequence infectious diseases.

Since then, a formal DoD Infectious Disease Aeromedical Transport (IDAT) course was proposed that includes a multidisciplinary team of Air Force instructor cadre to prepare personnel to safely transport patients affected by high consequence infectious diseases, and a training facility. C-STARS Omaha, in collaboration with the Global Center for Healthy Security on the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine campus, was selected for the IDAT course.

The planned training facility will include training spaces of different scales including a large space to house the C-130, C-17, NPC-Lite and NPC training units, as well as simulation classroom spaces for smaller activities. There could also be an administration element that would include office space, lounge, conference room, and secure communications room.

Funding for this initial planning was provided by the Department of Defense.

“This facility will serve as a vital national asset, dedicated to providing essential training for safe and effective aeromedical evacuation in biocontainment,” said USAF Lt. Col. Elizabeth Schnaubelt, MD, director of C-STARS Omaha.  “We are incredibly grateful for the collaboration and support of our Nebraska partners in this pioneering leap forward to ensure swift and secure transport of patients affected by high consequence infectious diseases while protecting our nation.”

“The IDAT facility will go beyond ‘just-in-time’ training and truly advance the readiness skills of federal health care workers to deliver safe and effective biocontainment care,” said Christopher Kratochvil, MD, vice chancellor for external relations. “As a national resource, it serves as a point of pride for Nebraskans knowing the critical role their medical center plays in national security issues.”

“I commend the exemplary partnership between the Department of the Air Force and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in establishing the Pentagon’s first Infectious Disease Aerial Transport training course right here in Omaha,” said U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (NE-02). “Once again, the University of Nebraska is poised to make history. This new mission demonstrates the national security vision and leadership that Nebraska is known for.” 

“The ongoing partnership between UNMC and the Air Force is a testament to the University of Nebraska and the many talented people who call this institution home. Our military medical personnel will receive first-rate training on transporting patients with high consequence infectious diseases. Today’s announcement is another clear example of UNMC’s national leadership in emergency preparedness,” said U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer.

The Fiscal Year 2024 Defense Appropriations Act passed the House Representatives in September and includes an additional $3 million in funding for the IDAT initiative.