In 2006, mock patient is treated at the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit
By Jane M. Orient, M.D., of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons
Have you wondered why Ebola patients are being sent to Omaha, Nebraska?
It’s because one physician, Dr. Philip Smith, had the foresight to set up the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit after the Sept. 11 attacks as a bulwark against bioterrorism. Empty for more than a decade, used only for drills, it was called “Maurer’s Folly,” for Harold Maurer, former chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The unit has a special air handling system to keep germs from escaping from patient rooms, and a steam sterilizer for scrubs and equipment.
It could handle at most 10 patients at a time, but one or two would be more comfortable, owing to the large volume of infectious waste.
It is the largest of only four such units in the U.S., and the only one designated for the general public.
Some say this is “overkill” – that our medical workers can be kept safe with much less stringent precautions. Ebola is “hard to get.” It is being compared to AIDS, which has not proved to be a significant threat to medical workers, not even surgeons.
“The Ebola outbreak is presenting some of the same challenges we saw with HIV,” writes Cheryl Clark for HealthLeaders Media, such as “fear of contagion.”
“In many ways, the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s was the best thing to happen to health care,” she claims. For one thing, it brought “universal precautions.”
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden also likens Ebola to AIDS.
“In the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS,” he said at a World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meeting in Washington, D.C. “And we have to work now so that this is not the world’s next AIDS.”
Written by JANE M. ORIENT, M.D.
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