Emory Report
July 5, 2005
Volume 57, Number 34


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July 5, 2005
Isolation unit helps prevent possible spread of diseases

BY cindy sanders

CDC employees often travel to parts of the world where they can come into contact with harmful diseases. To ensure their safety when they return to the United States, Emory Hospital and the CDC have worked together to create a special isolation unit designed to care for employees who need hospitalization following on-the-job exposure to serious communicable diseases. The new unit is located in the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) on Emory Hospital’s ground floor.

“With our CDC partner, we do what we do best—apply breakthrough medicine and care for each patient as a person,” said Emory Healthcare President and CEO John Fox. “This is truly ‘healing at a higher level’ in action.”

The hospital’s state-of-the-art, three-bed isolation unit features the highest standards in negative pressure air handling safeguards, Emory Hospital epidemiologist Bruce Ribner said. The unit’s air is high efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered before being exhausted outside the hospital, so there is no recirculation, and no one outside the facility is placed at risk.

The isolation unit is equipped to provide the same level of care and monitoring available in the hospital’s general and intensive care units. Staff nurses are specially trained in treating patients with serious communicable diseases.

“We had a great response from nurses who want to work in the unit,” said Cathy Wood, director of nursing, medical/surgical services and patient services.

Unit nurses participated in a one-day training seminar with instruction by infectious disease experts from Emory Hospital and the CDC. This was followed by a one-day field exercise, where a simulated patient was picked up at the CDC and transported to the new unit. Staff rotate on-call shifts and are available within one hour of being notified of a patient admission to the unit. The unit was used a few weeks ago for the first time, and everything ran smoothly.

“When this unit was being built, we hoped we’d never have to use the space to treat a serious communicable disease,” said Ribner, also associate professor of medicine. “However, we realize that with the numerous research laboratories and epidemiology field personnel the CDC has in Atlanta, we’ll probably use this unit several times a year.”