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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Biocontainment Unit

Uniquely Qualified and Prepared

A representative from the U.S. State Department recently visited The Nebraska Medical Center to take a closer look at the capabilities of our 10 bed Biocontainment Unit. There are no current plans for Ebola patients to be transferred here. This was strictly a fact-finding mission, to make government officials aware of the unit’s capabilities in case the need arises for treatment of additional patients with the Ebola virus here in the U.S.

The unit has been operational for nearly ten years and is one of four such units in the country equipped to handle an outbreak of this nature. Our physicians, nurses and staff are specially trained and participate in regular drills on the specific protocols and procedures to care for this type of patient. "The Ebola virus is very difficult to contract," said Phil Smith, MD medical director of the unit. "The risk it would pose to people outside the unit would be zero, and this is something that can be very safely treated without infecting health care workers."

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Questions and Answers about Ebola

Will The Nebraska Medical Center receive Ebola patients?

We don’t know yet. Our 10-bed biocontainment unit is the largest facility of its kind in the nation and is uniquely qualified to care for patients with this sort of condition. The U.S. State Department visited the med center recently to explore our ability to assist in the international response. The visit was purely a fact-finding mission and there are no immediate plans for us to receive Ebola patients. If that changes, we will let the public know.

If we do receive patients, is it safe for patients, visitors and staff?

Yes. This is exactly why we built this facility 10 years ago—to contain the spread of highly infectious diseases. Our caregivers on this unit are well trained and have participated in regular drills to prepare for exactly this sort of situation. The fact that we are one of just four facilities in the country prepared to handle this kind of complicated care should be a source of comfort for our staff, our community and our patients.

How can we be sure it won’t spread?

While talk of an Ebola outbreak can be alarming, health officials say an outbreak in the U.S. very low. The virus can only be spread by coming in close contact with an infected person’s blood or bodily fluids. Health officials also say the outbreak in Africa is less of a medical problem and more of a social problem because most people there are not aware of symptoms and how it is spread.

What makes our biocontainment unit safe?

Our unit is a secure, air-locked facility and operates on an air handling system that’s separate from the rest of the organization. Our highly trained team is perhaps our greatest defense. They have received many hours of highly specialized training and detailed instruction on how to care for these types of seriously ill patients. They would be using special, personal protective gear to control the spread of disease. We are national leaders in this area of response and care and will ensure every safeguard is in place to protect our staff, our other patients and their families.

About the Biocontainment Unit

The Biocontainment Unit at The Nebraska Medical Center is equipped to safely care for anyone exposed to a highly contagious and dangerous disease. It is a joint project involving The Nebraska Medical Center, Nebraska Health and Human Services, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Early isolation of an infected patient is essential - buying time for public health officials and providing the chance to either stop an outbreak - or help to contain one. The unit’s location, on the same campus as Nebraska’s Bio-Safety Level-3 laboratory, allows for timely diagnosis and immediate treatment of patients.

The Biocontainment Unit at The Nebraska Medical Center has ten beds and can receive patients from anywhere in the country, and is equipped with many safety features. Examples include special air handling systems to ensure that micro-organisms do not spread beyond the patient rooms, with high level filtration and ultraviolet light for additional protection. A dunk tank for laboratory specimens and a pass-through autoclave help assure that hazardous infections are contained. Hepa-filtered individual isolation units, are available for safe transport and transfer of an infected patient to the unit.

Headed by Medical Director Dr. Philip Smith, a specialist in infectious diseases, the Biocontainment Unit is staffed with registered nurses, respiratory therapists and patient care technicians who are on-call 24 hours a day. Highly contagious and deadly infectious conditions the unit can handle include: SARS, smallpox, tularemia, plague, Ebola virus and other viral hemorrhagic fevers, monkeypox, vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) and multidrug resistant tuberculosis.

Unique Features

The unit is equipped with special air-handling systems to ensure that germs do not spread beyond the patient rooms. Ultraviolet light, a dunk tank for lab specimens and a sterilizer for laundry are just some of the safety measures being taken to keep germs inside the unit and people safe on the outside.

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