A skilled special response team participated in extensive training, including simulation exercises, to prepare for the opening of Texas Children’s Special Isolation Unit.
By Kimberly Vetter
Texas Children’s opens new state-of-the-art Special Isolation Unit to care for children with highly contagious infectious diseases.
Spacious rooms equipped with the latest scientific and technological approaches to biocontainment are just one of the features of Texas Children’s new Special Isolation Unit. The eight-bed unit, housed at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, is designed for children with highly contagious infectious diseases and is part of an 18-bed expansion of the hospital’s Acute Care Unit.
“It’s a state-of-the-art isolation unit designed and staffed to provide the highest quality care and treatment for infants and children with serious or life-threatening infectious diseases of public health significance, with the greatest possible margin of safety,” said Texas Children’s Physician-in-Chief Mark W. Kline, MD. “We believe this will be an indispensable resource to our local community, Texas and the nation.”
Texas Children’s Special Isolation Unit is the only one of its kind in Texas and the southwest region, and it is among only a few in the United States designated just for children. The unit is fully equipped to care for any infant or child with a serious communicable disease, with all of the measures available to assure safety of the health care team, other patients and their families.
Each of the patient rooms has an anteroom, where doctors and nurses don personal protective equipment. Caregivers exit the patient room through a separate door and enter a third room, where they remove the protective equipment. Nurses can observe the patient and care team through large glass windows.
The unit has its own biosafety Level 3 laboratory, which allows for safe, on-site, rapid identification of usual and unusual pathogens. There’s also a separate medical waste room, where carts of used clothing and equipment can be disposed of or cleansed inside 6-foot autoclaves. Other features of the unit include:
- Negative pressure rooms and isolated air handling.
- High-protocol workflows designed around a “clean-to-dirty” workflow.
- Observation windows into patient rooms to limit staff exposure.
- Specialized technology and communication devices to communicate as a team.
- Staff locker room where caretakers can shower before and after each shift.
- Child life play room for patient siblings and young visitors.
Children treated within the Special Isolation Unit receive specialized care from a team of highly trained nurses and physicians. At least six members of the team, called the Special Response Team, are assigned to each child in the unit, with one team member acting as a family liaison. The children can use mobile tablet devices to talk with their families via video chat. In addition, to make the unit’s patients feel as comfortable as possible, a special doll is being developed that will wear a mini version of the personal protective equipment the doctors and nurses wear.
The decision to build a special isolation unit came last year when an unprecedented Ebola outbreak in West Africa began to reach other countries. A handful of cases were diagnosed in the U.S. in fall 2014. Texas Children’s immediately responded with a plan for a more robust approach to handling emerging infections, and shortly after, began the build-out of the unit and selected and trained a special response team to staff it.
The Special Isolation Unit is part of a new 18-bed acute care unit. When the isolation unit is not activated, its eight beds are used for acute care patients. The Special Isolation Unit is led by Medical Director Gordon Schutze, MD, and Associate Directors Judith Campbell, MD, and Amy Arrington, MD. Sondra Morris, RN, leads the team’s nursing staff. The unit’s Special Response Team comprises physicians, nurses, medical technologists and environmental service technicians who have been trained in infection control, hospital epidemiology and management of infectious diseases in the critical care setting.
“I could not be more impressed with Texas Children’s desire to run toward issues of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of the children of Texas and our nation,” said Brett Giroir, MD, director of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response and chief executive officer of Texas A&M Health Science Center.
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