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The Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit Takes Preparing for Ebola to a New Level

Dec. 18, 2018


A mock patient receives care during an
exercise of the Johns Hopkins biocontainment
unit.

One of the worst Ebola outbreaks in history is happening right now with hundreds of confirmed cases of the deadly virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The biocontainment unit (BCU) at The Johns Hopkins Hospital is a state-of-the-art facility designed to care for patients with high consequence pathogens, such as Ebola. Since its opening in 2015, the BCU, one of 10 regional centers in the U.S., has served as a site of research and training for highly infectious diseases. Staff members are now passing on that knowledge to other Maryland hospitals.

Through the support of an $800,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Health, the BCU team has begun a statewide program aimed at supporting and providing resources to special pathogen assessment hospitals. These hospitals can safely isolate and care for a suspected Ebola patient until a diagnosis is confirmed or ruled out, and the patient is transferred or discharged. As part of the grant, the BCU team is able to travel to each of the five assessment hospitals in Maryland to understand each facility’s successes and challenges in preparing for patients with Ebola. 

“We’re essentially collaborating with assessment hospitals across the state to understand each facility’s unique needs regarding preparedness, developing maintenance plans and strengthening readiness of these facilities through training and education,” says Chris Sulmonte, the BCU’s project administrator.

To perform hospital evaluations, the BCU team is employing a 77-page tool the National Ebola Training and Education Center uses to assess regional Ebola treatment centers. The BCU’s first site visit took place in October at Frederick Memorial Hospital, in Frederick, Maryland. The collaboration continued with a tabletop exercise held at The Johns Hopkins Hospital the same month to test the ability to transfer a patient infected with a high-consequence pathogen from Frederick Memorial to the Johns Hopkins BCU. 

“Patients with potential Ebola are more likely to walk through the doors of assessment hospitals before they come to The Johns Hopkins Hospital,” Sulmonte says. “And if they aren’t prepared, then the state really isn’t prepared. We can do everything we can here, but we’d just be an island without them.”

High consequence pathogen research experts from The Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory also participated in the exercise. Lauren Sauer, CEPAR’s director of operations and director of research for the BCU, and Jared Evans, senior scientist at the Applied Physics Lab, along with Jennifer Lee, the BCU’s lead pharmacist, facilitated the discussion of ethically accessing and providing potentially lifesaving investigational therapeutics in an emergency setting.

The BCU team has visited MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center (Clinton) and plans to begin visits next year at Peninsula Regional Medical Center (Salisbury), Holy Cross Hospital (Silver Spring) and Anne Arundel Medical Center (Annapolis).

Through the program, master’s degree level-students at the Bloomberg School of Public Health will also participate in site visits and work with the BCU team to develop pathogen-specific learning materials that can be distributed to all hospitals in the state.

“We’re excited to share our expertise and lessons learned with colleagues at our surrounding hospitals, so we can ensure patients receive proper care and that all health care workers remain safe should they receive a patient with one of these pathogens,” says BCU director Brian Garibaldi.