Four Minnesota hospitals have been chosen as destination treatment centers for Ebola cases that emerge in the state as part of a new strategy to maximize the recovery odds for patients and minimize the risks to health care workers.
The University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Unity Hospital in Fridley and Children’s Hospital in St. Paul were designated by the Minnesota Hospital Association after consultation among the state’s hospitals.
Every hospital in the state is expected to have training and isolation procedures to handle patients who walk in with Ebola warning signs — particularly, high fever and a recent travel history in West Africa — but confirmed cases will then be transferred.
Only a month ago, hospital officials believed treatment within the admitting hospitals would work. But then, at a hospital in Dallas, the first U.S.-diagnosed patient died and two of his nurses were infected despite wearing protective gear.
“The original thinking was that would be sufficient,” said Lawrence Massa, president and chief executive of the hospital association, “but it obviously didn’t work in the first case that we had.”
The four hospitals were selected because they have sufficient training, equipment, quarantine procedures and space to treat an Ebola patient today.
A team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will visit the sites soon to assess their readiness.
The U hospital selected an entire critical care unit on the 10th floor of a building on its West Bank campus because it is isolated from other patient care floors, across the river from the main campus, and detached from its pediatric hospital.
Rooms for Ebola patients will have ventilation systems and entryways where caregivers can remove gowns and protective gear. The unit will have its own lab equipment for blood and other tests as well.
In isolating the unit, hospital officials hope that other patients will feel comfortable coming to the U for their care and won’t be afraid if an Ebola patient is there — as happened in Dallas, said Dr. Brooks Jackson, dean of the U medical school and a virologist.
“The Dallas experience did result in tremendous financial losses for that hospital,” he said.
Ebola is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood or saliva — unlike seasonal influenza viruses that can spread through the air.
Hospital leaders bypassed the metro area’s three trauma centers — Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale and Regions Hospital in St. Paul — to prevent an Ebola case from disrupting their critical roles in caring for accident victims and other emergency patients.
“It just didn’t seem to work well to put those two things together,” Massa said.
The threat of Ebola in Minnesota remains low, but concerns persist because the deadly virus in Africa has now infected more than 9,900 people and resulted in more than 4,800 deaths. Minnesota is home to more than 30,000 people from Liberia, one of the three nations at the heart of the outbreak.
Unity is near the communities where many Liberians live in the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs, and parent organization Allina Health has been working for months on planning and isolation procedures in the event of an Ebola case.
“As long as Ebola is a problem in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, there will be concerns throughout the world for Ebola cases,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, state health commissioner. “There is no way to quantify or predict if or when we have a patient come here.”