Through the glass doors of three rooms in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), teams at the MGH recently got a window into what it would look like to treat two patients for Ebola Virus Disease.

The full-scale exercise – hosted by the MGH Biothreats Response Team – came just two months after the hospital announced it would participate in an international Ebola clinical trial to study ZMapp, an experimental treatment which uses three antibodies to treat the disease. 

“We’ve never cared for a patient with Ebola at MGH, but given the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the ease by which people travel internationally, we need to maintain readiness for Ebola and other high-consequence infectious diseases,” says Erica Shenoy, MD, PhD, associate chief of the MGH Infection Control Unit, medical director of the Biothreats Care Unit and the local principal investigator for the ZMapp trial.

In 2015, the MGH was designated a regional center for Ebola and other infectious diseases by the federal government. As part of the designation, the hospital conducts several annual training and planning sessions.

Participants in the most recent exercise in December 2018 practiced receiving two patients – a pediatric mannequin and an adult actor, playing the role of a child’s mother. Both were isolated and transported to the MICU, which becomes a biocontainment unit once activated for the treatment of Ebola. There, hospital responders demonstrated the way to properly don and doff personal protective equipment and remove contaminated waste. They also reviewed best practices in administering ZMapp and responding to an adverse reaction to the treatment. Staff from the Center for Disaster Medicine, Infection Control and the Biothreats Response Team served as evaluators for the simulation, offering feedback in real time.

“These drills help us improve our work and make adjustments as needed,” says Meghan Crann, RN, of the MICU. “It was during one of the early exercises when we realized we needed a resource nurse outside the patient room, wearing a headset and communicating with the team inside, to better manage and facilitate care.”

Crann says she also has visited another regional facility that previously treated a patient with Ebola. “While our practice is just in theory right now, speaking to those providers drove home the message to me that this could very easily become real life.”

This article was originally published in the 02/08/19 Hotline issue.