Ebola, SARS, monkeypox, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the Nebraska Medicine/University of Nebraska Medical Center says it is ready to care for patients with any of those difficult diseases. On Monday it was the novel coronavirus that kept personnel there up overnight.
The special 10-bed biocontainment unit is a state-of-the-art facility that has been doing this kind of complicated work for nearly 15 years.
It is a secured area with its own ventilation system that is isolated from the rest of the hospital and is staffed by people with specialized training in communicable diseases. It had been commissioned by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005.
This isn’t the first patient connected to a high profile disease in the unit.
UNMC also has a federal quarantine center on its campus. That’s where 12 other patients from the cruise ship were sent Monday. That facility has 20 purpose-built rooms, that are separate from, but are in close proximity to the biocontainment unit, that can be used if the patients need additional care.
The 12 patients in the quarantine center will be tested on site for the novel coronavirus.
“Some tested positive, we are told, in Japan, but some came with a lack of clarity what their test results were,” said Schwedhelm.
The patients will be monitored and treated if necessary.
“He had the foresight in the early 2000’s, with the anthrax attacks in Washington DC, SARS in Canada, Monkeypox in the Midwest, and elsewhere when health care workers were getting sick, most likely because contaminating themselves as they removed their personal protective equipment,” Schwedhelm said. “Those were all really driving things for him, because he felt strongly that there really wasn’t a great facility to support care of people who others were scared to take care of and there needed to be one in this country.”
Schwedhelm, who grew up in Nebraska said she never would have imagined back when she was an ER nurse at the start of her career that this is where her career would take her. Now she, and other members of the Nebraska team, travel the country teaching other medical staff how to stay safe when treating patients with infectious disease.
“It isn’t just the bricks and mortar of a biocontainment unit that makes this place special,” she said. The staff apply and volunteer to work in these specialty programs.
“Many have been here from the start,” she said. “The real treasure and asset here is the people.”