Texas to create 2 units to treat Ebola patients

JAMIE STENGLE, Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) — Texas, which saw the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. and two more since then, has designated two containment facilities in Galveston and a Dallas suburb to treat any future patients.

Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday that the facilities, with specially trained staff and dedicated space, will take in those diagnosed with the disease, which killed a Liberian man visiting Dallas and infected two nurses who treated him.

“The goal is for these facilities to rival the most advanced units in the world when it comes to the quality of care and the security and safety of the personnel in those facilities, as well as in the general population,” Perry said at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

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Methodist Health System is turning over an entire floor of one of its facilities in the Dallas suburb of Richardson. UT Southwestern will provide doctors in specialties including infectious diseases and critical care and nurses, while Parkland Hospital System will provide pharmacists, nurses and lab technicians. Perry said the unit will be ready to go within 24 hours and in the future will need just six hours of notice to prepare for a patient.

The other unit will be at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, southeast of Houston.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, which treated the three previous Ebola cases, was not included in the plan. Thomas Eric Duncan, who had traveled to Dallas from Ebola-ravaged West Africa, died there on Oct. 8. A nurse who treated him tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 11, and another tested positive on Oct. 15. Both nurses were initially treated at Presbyterian but were later flown to high-level biohazard infectious disease centers in Maryland and Atlanta.

About 110 people in Texas, including Texas Presbyterian employees, are still being monitored for possible infection with Ebola because they may have had contact with one of those three people.

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Perry formed a task force to look at the state’s readiness to deal with infectious diseases shortly after Duncan was diagnosed. The governor said the panel had recommended that at least two facilities be designated to take Ebola patients.

State officials said no new state funds are being dedicated to the centers.

Both are using existing facilities with staff who have already been training to work with such patients, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission. She said the hospitals already get state and federal funding and can support the centers within their current budgets.

The Methodist Campus for Continuing Care includes a recently vacated intensive care unit and an emergency department. Dr. Sam Bagchi, Methodist’s chief medical informatics officer, said the campus no longer houses core hospital operations.

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At Galveston, Perry said, staff members have “safely studied some of the most dangerous viruses in the world for a decade.” He said it is also home to a training center “where researches around the world come to learn how to handle the most infectious diseases.”

Perry said Presbyterian was not included in order to grant some relief to the employees who have been in a situation “not unlike a military operation that has been on the front lines.”

The Dallas hospital, where Duncan was initially misdiagnosed and sent home, has defended its practices and protocols and said it followed what it described as frequently changing CDC guidelines.