GALVESTON — A secure part of John Sealy Hospital could become the designated treatment center for future Texas Ebola patients, state officials announced Friday.

Citing the University of Texas Medical Branch’s experience with handling infectious diseases, and the level of training its employees receive in containment and treatment of such diseases, the head of a state Ebola Task Force said the medical branch would be the first choice among all Texas’ hospitals to become an Ebola treatment center.

“(The Department of State Health Services) should immediately initiate discussions with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and its local stakeholders to establish UTMB as the first of two designated Ebola treatment facilities in Texas,” Brett Girior said during a news conference Friday. “UTMB is well known as one of the world’s leading resources for all aspects of high-consequence infectious diseases like Ebola, and a national center which provides training to professionals from all around the world on these diseases.”

No agreement to designate the medical branch an Ebola treatment center has been made, officials said Friday. The medical branch is not currently treating any Ebola patients and has not been asked to accept any patients from other hospitals.

Town-hall meeting

During a town-hall meeting held for employees Friday afternoon, President David Callender said the medical branch was prepared to handle any Ebola patients diagnosed in its facilities.

“We have been able to care for an occupational exposure for some time,” he said. “We are prepared now to care for a patient identified within our system.”

The medical branch has three self-contained rooms that could be used to isolate Ebola patients, while 32 nurses and “a number of” its doctors are trained to treat patients with highly infectious diseases. Seven lab technicians have volunteered to handle clinical samples from patients with Ebola symptoms.

“We plan to be able to provide support at those sites so that we don’t have to transport specimens to other areas of campus,” Callender said. “We’ve done extensive training and thinking, not only about how we identify patients, but how we ultimately move them to a site for care.”

No medical students or residents would be asked to treat Ebola patients, and only doctors who volunteered would be assigned to treat such patients, Callender said.

The medical branch was required to construct the isolation facilities as part of agreements allowing it to operate the Galveston National Laboratory. The facilities were required in case researchers at the national lab contracted any of the infectious diseases studied there. The isolation rooms, which are in the main hospital building, could be used for clinical patients, as well, officials said.

Stocking supplies

The hospital was buying extra specialized supplies to help with the treatment of Ebola, Callender said.

“With this being a threat, although it’s a very limited small threat, we need to make sure that our clinics, our community centers, our urgent care centers, all the inpatient areas, have an adequate supply,” Callender said.

No procedures were in place to accept an Ebola patient from an outside system, Callender said. In order for that to happen, state and hospital officials will need to discuss what extra measures the medical branch would need to take to prepare for more patients.

“We’ve been visited by a number of state officials over past several weeks,” Callender said. The officials have asked about the medical branch’s ability to handle patients from other areas of the state. “We just have to begin those conversation. This is really for the longer term.”

Medical waste

While no patients are anticipated immediately, the hospital is expecting the arrival of medical waste from Dallas’s Presbyterian Hospital.

Callender said 100 55-gallon drums are waiting to be transported from Dallas to Galveston for disposal.

The exact time and date the waste will be brought back to Galveston was not yet known. When it does arrive, the large cardboard canisters will be brought to a loading dock and transferred to a nearby incinerator.

The incinerator, which burns at a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, would destroy any living traces of the virus that remain on the waste. Because the waste had already been sitting in containers for seven days, any traces of the virus would likely already be gone, Callender said.

Ebola cannot survive outside a living host and dies at 120 degrees.

Galveston’s incinerator is used to burn 1,500 pounds of medical waste a day. It’s the only state-licensed medical incinerator large enough to handle the containers from the Dallas hospital, Callender said.

The ash from the waste will be disposed of by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

While the medical waste has been the source of a small controversy — a plan to bring the materials to a site in Louisiana was called off after the state was granted a restraining order — Callender said there should be little concern about the waste being brought to and destroyed in Galveston.

“We make rational decisions here in Texas,” Callender said. 

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com.

(12) comments

Robert Badger

"Dr. Brett Giroir, the head of the Ebola task force appointed by Perry, said the task force believes the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston should be the site of the state's first Ebola treatment center."

t wasn't bad enough that the state got a 'superbug' facility specializing in ebola(you do realize these labs first prioity is the millitariizing of deadly biotics) place on a hurricane vulnerable sand spit upwing of the 4th largest city in America. No, that wasn't insane enough, now they want ot sen all the ebola cases to the UTMB hospital there. In case you are not aware of that facility it is a medical TRAININNG hospital! Go to ANY hospital in Houston, walk around, observe, then go to Galveston UTMB. It will scarre the daylights out of you.

If such a thing does not exist I propose a new criminal law be enacted as soon as possible covering Criminal Stupid. I further propose that it be retroactive and all people connected with the idea to make UTMB-Galveston the receiving center for all ebola cases should be prosecuted, and confined in institutions fro the criminally insane & stupid for the rest of their lives.

Brian Cann

I agree, a medical school training hospital is not a good place for Ebola patients. But on th flip side, it will be realllll easy to quarantine all of us here on an ISLAND!!!! Shut down the ferry, close the causeway and San Louis pass. From a logistic point of view you couldn't ask for a better place. Unless, of course, you live here! And don't think for a second that this did not enter the minds of the decision makers.

Debra Criss

have they considered other UT institutions who are less likely to have a natural disaster like IKE that closed the hospital? where and how would the patients be safely transferred to other like facilities? makes more since to build where those decisions are less likely to occur.

Don Ciaccio

Rockstrongo- many galvestonians said that very thing when they were proposing to build it here. Very easy to isolate and exterminate if necessary.

Kim Etheridge

The non-military Level 4 bio-safety labs are all affiliated with university hospitals.
http://tinyurl.com/kcnyz5b

janet lyons

Only Galveston would think of combining tourism with Ebola in a hurricane zone!

rah

As soon as the Carnival Magic docks on Sunday UT might have its first patient. This lab worker who is in self isolation on the ship: are they scrubbing the plates going in? Oh, and what restaurants and business did she support prior to disembarking on the cruise ship

Debra Criss

noticed Callendar said "only doctors who volunteered would be assigned to treat such patients." That should apply to ALL healthcare workers, nurses , lab, housekeeping etc.

Tom Jones

Great a charity hospital handling Ebola.

Ron Geraci

Cecil the Cursing Cat on Ebola --

http://themintyplum.com/?p=2601

Wayne Holt

When you're dealing with a disease that is doubling infection rates every three weeks in Africa you may want to panic now and avoid death later. If AIDS cases were doubling at this rate the National Guard would be on the streets. Well, they soon will be but in Africa.

A couple of tidbits that are not mentioned in these stories on Ebola. Tom Ksiazek, director of high containment laboratory operations for the Galveston National Laboratory, said: “There is a lot of mythology surrounding these viruses.” I would submit one myth is that you have to have direct contact with fluids that are infected to contract it. Read what nationally recognized experts on respiratory protection and infectious disease prevent say about AEROSOL infecting agents: http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2014/09/commentary-health-workers-need-optimal-respiratory-protection-ebola

Secondly, the gentleman who will direct the governor’s new infectious disease task force, Dr. Brett Giroir, wants to welcome Ebola patients to UTMB. He accepted a full-time position at DARPA as Deputy Director of the Defense Sciences Offices (DSO), and then as its Director from 2007 to 2008. Does DARPA sound familiar? It's the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But they're from the government, they're here to help Galveston.

We have a new Ebola czar in Washington with no medical background but great credentials as a PR flack for many of the biggest scandals in recent DC history. We have a DARPA alumni shepherding the project to bring Ebola victims for half of Texas here. We have a hospital where dedicated nurses can't get simple supplies or have computers up and running to enter reports but is called a 'first-class facility' where Ebola victims will be a floor above average patients.

What could possibly go wrong?

Debra Criss

not sure why anyone thinks it's a good idea to build a unit on the island to take care of Ebola patients. UTMB was shut down how long after IKE? UTMB's mission is to train doctors for Texas.....Callendar said no students would be involved.....only volunteers.

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