DALLAS — UT Southwestern Medical Center will staff one of two designated biocontainment centers in Texas, providing specially trained workers and equipment to treat Ebola and other infectious diseases, Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday.
The hospital will provide doctors, Methodist Health System will provide a building in Richardson and Parkland Hospital in Dallas will provide a laboratory, lab and pharmacy technicians as well as nurses for the unit. The second containment hospital will be at University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the first Ebola death in the nation occurred Oct. 8, was not included in the partnership. Perry said Presbyterian “had paid a heavy price” in the battle against the virus — two of its nurses are infected.
Nurse Nina Pham’s condition improved from fair to good Tuesday, according to the National Institutes of Health Clinic Center in Bethesda, Md., where she is being treated. Nurse Amber Vinson reportedly is doing well.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said “it would be inhumane and not in their best interests nor in anyone else’s best interests” for Presbyterian to continue treating Ebola patients. In a press release, Texas Health said officials they would continue to provide input, using their experience.
Both Presbyterian and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been criticized for their handling of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian Ebola patient who died at the hospital.
“As the first U.S. hospital to face the challenge of both diagnosing and treating Ebola patients, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas will continue to share our learnings with health officials at all levels of government, our fellow hospitals and the broader health care community,” a statement from the hospital says.
The Methodist Campus for Continuing Care in Richardson has empty beds and space for safely taking protective gear on and off. Up to two new Ebola patients could be admitted by Wednesday if necessary, said Dr. Sam Bagchi, chief medical information officer for Methodist Health System.
“This is a fully contained facility, just like Nebraska and Emory,” Bagchi said. The only biocontainment centers for Ebola patients are the biocontainment unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, the Nebraska Biocontainment Patient Care Unit in Omaha, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. and St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Mont.
Perry said at a news conference in Dallas Tuesday that the goal in Texas is “to rival the most advanced facilities in the world.”
Combined with Dallas County’s ability to test for Ebola, having two dedicated units to treat for Ebola is significant for Texas, said County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Brett Giroir, director of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, said the “novel, collaborative partnership” between the three health care groups fills a pressing need.
“Only four days ago, we delivered our initial recommendations — the most critical and immediately necessary is the establishment of at least two Ebola, or more appropriately, two bio-containment treatment centers, trained and equipped to provide the highest levels of specialized clinical care and healthcare worker protection for Ebola patients and potentially other patients in the future with similar high consequence infectious diseases,” Giroir said.
The task force also made recommendations about an Ebola triage protocol in hospitals. The protocol is under review at the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“Our capabilities encompass experts in bio-containment and are reinforced by a history of solving scientific and public health issues through fundamental and applied research as well as the clinical care we provide patients,” UT Southwestern President Daniel K. Podolsky said.
Parkland CEO Frederick Cerise said Parkland stands ready to participate and has a lengthy history of dealing with disasters including Hurricane Katrina. Cerise said Parkland would send a “special pathogen strike team” of 50 nurses and support personnel that are trained to deal with the hazards of Ebola.
“The team is trained to function in enhanced personal protective equipment, or PPE, in a high-threat environment so they’ll be safe while providing this care,” Cerise said.
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Jenkins and other said Tuesday they are optimistic that North Texas is winning the fight against Ebola.
“It’s a much better situation,” Jenkins said during a commissioner’s court meeting. “I believe the likelihood of more cases is at the other end of the bell curve. We’re on the downward slope. They’re getting less likely each day, that we’ll get more cases.”
As of noon Tuesday, 60 people have been removed from the list of potential Ebola patients, after being monitored for symptoms for 21 days.
Another 112 people are still being monitored, according to the update provided by the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
If no one who had confirmed contact or possible contact with Pham or Vinson are showing Ebola symptoms by Nov. 7, North Texas and the rest of the U.S. could be declared Ebola-free.
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