Specialized infectious disease unit ready to activate at OU Medical Center

Posted on: 1/21/15

The new Oklahoma Biocontainment Care Unit designed to isolate and care for pediatric and adult patients in the state who test positive for dangerous infectious diseases like Ebola is now ready to be activated, if needed. 

The nearly 4,000-square-foot specialized unit has two independent patient rooms, a lab, storage, a nurses’ station, a biohazard room, separate areas for putting on and removing protective gear, sleep rooms for employees and an employee/family lounge space. 

The self-contained unit has controlled access at all times, and doors into and within the unit close automatically. One elevator carries patients and medical staff to the unit. A separate elevator carries any biohazard waste from the unit. 

To protect health workers and others, patient rooms have around 15 air exchanges an hour in a negative pressure environment, meaning air from the patient rooms cannot move to other areas inside. 

The specialized unit is in a decommissioned hospital building on the Oklahoma Health Center campus and is isolated from patient care areas at the adult and children’s hospitals. 

Dan Raiden, vice president of support services and strategic operations at OU Medical System, said the two-bed unit is removed from other care areas so health care workers can treat patients while minimizing the potential exposure to other patients, family members and medical staff. 

“The unit is self-sufficient relative to the air handling system, supply and distribution of medical gasses and the storage and removal of biomedical waste,” said Raiden. “We have the ability to isolate and care for Oklahoma patients, if any should be confirmed to have a serious infectious disease like Ebola. This unit is designed to handle the challenges unique to infectious diseases and these specifications have been incorporated into the construction of this specialized unit.”

The Oklahoma State Department of Health in October asked OU Medical Center to serve as a Center of Excellence should there be a confirmed case of Ebola in the state. OU Medical Center quickly took on the task, obtaining permits for more beds and building out the unit while at the same time continuing to train hospital staff on the safety precautions, protocols and specialized care needed by patients with infectious diseases like Ebola. 

“The cooperation facilitated by the Oklahoma Hospital Association and OU Medical Center highlights the importance of our entire state hospital network, as well as other health care providers and first responders, working in unison to help protect the public’s health,” said Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Cline.

An OU Medical Center infectious disease response team continues to train and run drills to be prepared in the event the unit is ever needed. 

“The Oklahoma Biocontainment Care Unit is a great responsibility that has been afforded to OU Medical Center,” said Chuck Spicer, president and CEO of OU Medical System. “We have taken great strides to ensure readiness should our team of professionals be called to activate the unit, and Oklahomans can be confident that their health needs will be met with the highest level of expertise.”

Having the Oklahoma Biocontainment Care Unit will allow patients with severe communicable diseases to be isolated and cared for in a specialized unit separate from other care areas. This would allow OU Medical Center operations to be unaffected for patients needing trauma care, comprehensive cancer care, comprehensive pediatric treatment and other specialized care. If an Ebola case is confirmed at another hospital, that patient could be safely transported to the Oklahoma Biocontainment Care Unit to receive the necessary care.  

There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Oklahoma, and there are no patients currently being treated for Ebola in the U.S. 

“On behalf of hospitals across the state, we express appreciation to OU Medical Center for its leadership in stepping forward to offer this enhanced level of care, which will ensure a safe, well equipped environment for patients and caregivers if the need arises,” said Craig W. Jones, Oklahoma Hospital Association president. “This eases the concern for the hospital community as they all remain vigilant about their preparations to provide initial screening and interim care for suspected Ebola cases. We will continue to work with state health officials on a more long-term approach  to providing proper biocontainment resources needed to treat these and similar patients in the future.”

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