Stocked with high-grade protective gear and sealed off with plastic sheeting, a section of Cook Children’s Medical Center’s intensive care unit stands ready to accept young patients who might be sickened by the Ebola virus.
Like other hospitals across North Texas, Cook is implementing federal protocols, training and equipment recommendations designed to protect medical staff and patients. Gov. Rick Perry said last week that Texas will have dedicated biocontainment centers in Galveston and Richardson for Ebola patients, but the Fort Worth pediatric hospital continues to prepare.
“At this moment, the announcement does not change our approach toward preparing to care for a child who may screen positive for Ebola,” Cook spokeswoman Winifred King said. “We’ve not been informed that either of these facilities will be equipped to treat pediatric patients. Until we’re given more definitive information, we continue with our training and preparations.”
Preparations include sectioning off part of the pediatric intensive care unit and keeping it ready for Ebola patients, as well as buying advanced protective gear that doesn’t leave the neck, wrists or face exposed to a patient’s body fluids, said Traci Brooks, nurse manager for the intensive care unit. Medical personnel also received video training on the proper way to put on and take off the personal protective gear.
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“As we began to see what was happening at one of our adult partner hospitals, we realized that we needed to be prepared,” Brooks said, referring to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, where two nurses became infected while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.
Brooks said a Cook Children’s employee task force also reviewed procedures used by nationally renowned biocontaiment units such as the one at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
“The community needs to know they are in good hands. We have worked diligently, using our resources and outside experts. We have really prepared, practiced and trained,” she said.
Although Ebola treatment is similar for children and adults, the younger patients’ emotional and physical needs can present challenges.
“They have a lot more contact needs than adults. You have to change them, position them more, feed them. That may mean we are in contact with the kids more frequently,” said Dr. Marc Mazade, the hospital medical director over infection control.
Several medical staffers have already volunteered to work in intensive care if an Ebola patient arrives, Brooks said.
“Most of us, we have a passion for what we do in healthcare. We’re there to serve in whatever capacity that is, even in a support role,” Brooks said.
The isolation rooms in the intensive care unit have negative air pressure, which keeps the air inside separate.
Cook, which treated hundreds of pediatric patients with the H1NI flu virus during the pandemic in 2009, said treating Ebola in a child requires significantly more resources than other infectious diseases.
“There’s going to be a lot more fatigue involved,” Mazade said. “It’s a much more taxing issue.”
Although the hospital may never see an Ebola patient, its staff is handling numerous questions from nervous parents and has posted articles on its website and on social media about the virus.
“When you have the news on in the background, they are listening. Even if they aren’t asking questions, they may be thinking about it,” said Dr. Justin Smith, known as The Doc Smitty on Facebook and Twitter.
“When you are dealing with kids, you want to make sure you are giving them age-appropriate information. You need to remind them that kids get fever for lots of reasons and they get better.”