From Nebraska Medical Center

Ebola: One Year Later

Commentary from The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit

Philip W. Smith, MD; Shelly Schwedhelm, MSN, RN; Kate Boulter, BAN (HONS), RN; John-Martin J. Lowe, PhD; Frank M. Freihaut, RRT


October 12, 2015

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Editor's Note: Just over a year ago, a patient with Ebola virus disease was admitted to the Nebraska Medical Center's Biocontainment Unit in Omaha, Nebraska. Ebola is a highly contagious, often fatal illness, so it would be natural for those assigned to care for such a patient to be anxious. Not so the biocontainment unit staff. Every last healthcare professional and support staff member had been preparing and rehearsing for that day. They were ready, and the eyes of the world watched as they safely and effectively treated Dr Rick Sacra until he left the unit 3 weeks later, Ebola-free.

In the weeks that followed, the Biocontainment Unit again swung into action to provide care for Ebola patients Ashoka Mukpo (who recovered) and Dr Martin Salia (who died of Ebola). The Biocontainment staff also monitored several repatriated US healthcare workers who had been exposed to Ebola and required the same high level of infection control until they were confirmed to be negative for the disease. Throughout this period, no Nebraska Medical Center staff member became infected with Ebola.

Along with the families, friends, and colleagues of these patients, the entire country is grateful to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit for their diligence and dedication. When it became apparent that most hospitals in the United States were woefully unprepared to safely handle a patient with Ebola, the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit generously and unhesitatingly shared their protocols and procedures, helping hundreds of hospitals across the country to better prepare for the expected onslaught of Ebola patients. Although this onslaught did not transpire, these hospitals dramatically improved their infection control standards and readiness to manage a patient with Ebola, should the threat re-emerge. The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit has become a model and leader for the country in the care of patients with highly infectious diseases.

The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit staff would be first to acknowledge that preparing for and safely managing a patient with Ebola is a "team sport." Every healthcare professional on the team has an important role, and team members work very closely together every step of the way. In this video, several members of the Biocontainment Unit team share their recollections of their "Ebola experience,"—Dr Phil Smith, medical director, Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency preparedness, Kate Boulter, nurse manager, John Lowe, director of research, and Frank Freihaut, respiratory therapist.


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