GALVESTON — Hospital officials in Galveston are preparing to take a more active role in the state’s response to cases of Ebola.
The University of Texas Medical Branch agreed to accept medical waste from Dallas’ Presbyterian Hospital, the hospital where one person died after contracting the Ebola virus and two other nurses who treated him were infected, state health officials confirmed Thursday.
“UTMB has agreed to take waste from the hospital,” Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said Thursday. “It seemed like a very logical choice, and they agreed to take it. They are very well equipped to deal with that.”
UTMB had scheduled a news conference on Thursday, but it was rescheduled for this morning.
Earlier in the day, university officials made clear that the medical branch was preparing to step up its involvement.
“UTMB is uniquely positioned to help Texas deal with the Ebola situation,” President David Callender said in a media release.
As proof of that, the university pointed to the safety record of the Galveston National Lab, a Level 4 biosafety facility where researchers study Ebola and other infectious diseases.
In the 10 years that the lab has operated, not one of its researchers has been infected, the university said.
The university also is home to the National Biocontainment Training Center — where scientists are trained to safely work in high-containment laboratories.
It was unclear whether any of the Dallas medical waste had already arrived in Galveston.
The university is not treating any patients with Ebola and has not been asked to accept any patients.
Amber Vinson, one of the two nurses infected in Dallas, was taken to Emory Hospital in Atlanta on Wednesday. The other nurse, Nina Pham, was to be taken to National Institutes of Health clinical center in Bethesda, Md., on Thursday evening.
However, should more cases appear, UTMB is equipped to handle them, Callender said.
“Should we have a patient suspected of having the virus, we are well prepared to provide quality care in a way that protects our employees and the community,” Callender said.
Ebola waste has been something of a political hot potato in recent days.
Early this week, state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, objected to plans for some types of waste to be brought to an incinerator in Port Arthur.
While items from the apartment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the original Dallas Ebola patient, were destroyed in Port Arthur last Friday, Deshotel said he opposed items from the hospital being brought to the same place.
“The medical waste from Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas most certainly will contain bodily fluids of the current Ebola patient; therefore I request that it not be transported to Jefferson County, but instead be incinerated in a medical facility licensed to dispose (of) medical waste,” Deshotel said.
Deshotel said he reached an agreement with Health and Human Services Commissioner Kyle Janek to have the medical waste brought to the medical branch in Galveston.
Also this week, a hazardous waste facility in Louisiana said it would not accept ash from incinerated Ebola waste after the state’s attorney general asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the waste from entering the state.
“There are too many unknowns at this point, and it is absurd to transport potentially hazardous Ebola waste across state lines,” Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said in a statement Sunday.
Veolia North America, the company that incinerated the apartment waste, said the ash is decontaminated and put in containers with multiple layers of packaging. It does not contain the Ebola virus and is not a threat to public health.
Galveston’s elected officials said Friday that they were comfortable with Ebola waste coming to the island because of the expertise found at the medical branch.
“It has become obvious that people that are not experts, are not properly trained and are not equipped to deal with Ebola, shouldn’t be dealing with Ebola if it can be avoided,” State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said.
“The people at the Galveston National Lab are experts, are properly trained and have the equipment to safely and effectively destroy the waste, they have been doing it every day for about 10 years with all kinds of bad stuff, including Ebola.
“This is where it should go. If the people and equipment at UTMB and the Galveston National Lab can’t handle Ebola, God help us all.”