UIHC holds bio-containment drill

An outbreak of Ebola virus four years ago in six African countries put the world on notice that deadly diseases need a special health response. And another medical need is practice for the health care responders to make sure they’re ready.

Medical responders practice moving a patient from an aircraft to an ambulance in full containment suits. This was part of a bio-containment drill put on by the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

And on Tuesday first responders, doctors and nurses at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics practiced for the kind of “bio-containment” situation all hope never happens.

The idea of bio-containment is to isolate the patient from others until the infectious disease is understood and treatment is underway.

For the drill, responders only knew that a University of Iowa student who was flying home from an Asian country had come down with a suspected bio-infection.

And the practice began at the Iowa City Airport.

Mike Hartley, U of I Emergency Management director, says this is the first time participants had practiced a patient needing to be put in isolation arriving on a medical aircraft.

“One of the things we had to look at is how would we unload a patient from an aircraft that’s much larger in an airport like this,” Hartley said.

A corporate jet stood in for the medical aircraft normally used and responders in fully sealed containment suits practiced using a scissors lift to maneuver an isolation capsule with a patient inside from the aircraft to a waiting ambulance.

At the UIHC emergency room, doctors and nurses also in full protective suits practiced their roles in taking the patient to an isolation area of the hospital.

It takes additional training for EMCs and paramedics to work with a bio-containment patient and Medic EMS from Davenport participated in the drill.

Jeremy Pessman, from that service, says the suits are heavy and hot and it takes practice to provide patient care while maintain strict isolation procedures.

“Communication and movement are the hardest—trying to take care of a patient like this can be pretty difficult,” he said.

Another observer, Dylan Reed a Johnson County Ambulance paramedic, noted that participants practice hard because there’s a danger of spreading the infection.

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a nurse in Dallas became infected after making a mistake removing a protective suit.

“When it happens, it makes you take a step back and realize this is serious and if I don’t do everything point A to point B there’s a 100 percent risk of exposure,” he said.

Hartley says the University of Iowa has never had a real patient in the hospital’s bio-containment unit.

But they could and that’s why they practice.