By Michaela Ramm
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics initiated emergency protocols on Tuesday after an individual was admitted to the hospital with an unknown infections disease.

At least, that’s the scenario hospital officials played out Tuesday morning in a first-ever emergency drill conducted at the Iowa City Municipal Airport to prepare staff in the event of a transport of a patient with an unknown infectious disease to their facilities.

In this case, the disease was assumed to be incredibly contagious, such as the Ebola or Nipah virus. Officials ran the drill with local EMS services and hospital staff, fine-tuning the process and ensuring all hiccups were addressed in the event of a real case.

Mike Hartley, UIHC emergency management coordinator, said an event such as this would be extremely rare, “but we have the capability, so we need to be prepared.”

“We try to envision all of the possible things we could get into and try to take ourselves through it because, really, when it comes to game day, you don’t want to map it out on paper,” Hartley said.

“You play like you practice. We want to practice so that when it comes to game time, we know what we’re doing and we do it perfectly.”

Hartley said the previous bio-infection emergency drill took place in 2015.

However, Tuesday’s was the first drill officials conducted that simulated a plane landing in a municipal airport, such as Iowa City’s. Hartley said most drills would take place at major regional airports.

Throughout the morning, EMS and hospital staff practiced steps for a scenario in which a University of Iowa student fell ill with an unknown pathogen during the last leg of her journey back from a mission trip in South Asia.

Medics moved the patient to an ambulance from an aircraft parked on the runway. The “patient” — Emma Lewis, a healthy UI senior who volunteered for the part — then was transported to the emergency room, where she was handed over to hospital staff to begin testing and treatment in UIHC’s biocontainment unit.

“I think the bottom line is the interaction between the ambulance crew and our staff is an important interaction so we know how to work together and know what each other can expect,” Hartley said.

Hartley said the drill came at the request of federal officials as part of the Hospital Preparedness Program, an initiative within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enhance hospitals’ ability “to prepare for and respond to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies.”

UIHC is part of region seven, which includes Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri and receives federal preparedness funding to maintain biocontainment units.

UIHC’s biocontainment unit, which is part of the hospital’s intensive care unit, was designated in December 2014. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the facility in early 2015 — one of the final Ebola and special pathogens treatment centers to be verified during the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014-16.

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(c) 2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)