Specialized Ebola unit to open in Jackson

University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and health officials announced that a former patient-care building will be renovated into an Ebola unit that will isolate patients and provide treatment in the event that there are any cases of the virus in Mississippi.

UMMC officials said that the building is separated from the other patient-care facilities. Dr. James Keeton, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said, “The availability of this unit allows us to sequester the care of a patient away from our other patient-care activities and, indeed, to physically isolate the case from the rest of campus.”

“We judged that we could retrofit the facility to meet all the necessary requirements to, first and foremost, protect our clinical and support staff, and second, provide appropriate care to our patient,” said UMMC chief administrative officer Jonathan Wilson. “The University Rehabilitation Center (URC) has the advantage of being one of the few buildings on campus that is completely self-sufficient and physically isolated from every other building at UMMC.”

Selected rooms in the building will serve as bio-containment units capable of holding up to two Ebola patients. According to The Clarion-Ledger, Wilson said any Ebola treatment at the Jackson hospital would not be long-term and that after local treatment, patients would be transferred to one of four hospitals for extended treatment. Designated hospitals include Nebraska Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Emory University Hospital, and St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana.

Hospital and state officials have stressed that they are not currently tracking or treating anybody with Ebola in the state of Mississippi. However, according to The Clarion-Ledger, UMMC officials said that people who recently traveled to West Africa and who show symptoms of the disease would constitute probable cases for treatment.

UMMC has a staff of healthcare professionals and clinical volunteers from other hospitals described as “a permanent team of healthcare workers specially trained to handle infectious-disease outbreaks and other biological threats” by Keeton. The Ebola treatment staff will require about 100 members. According to a report from UMMC, director of infection prevention Elham Ghonim said that caring for a patient with Ebola would be voluntary.

State Health Officer Mary Currier also stressed that the likelihood of an actual Ebola case in Mississippi is very low, but that in order for Mississippi to be fully prepared it is crucial to have such a facility in the event that there is a reported case in the state.