As part of Ko Awatea’s Patient Experience Week, patients and staff were offered tours of Middlemore Hospital’s Bio Containment Unit – the first of its kind in New Zealand.
Terry Rings, infection control nurse practitioner lead, showed small groups around the facilities, which were first established for purpose in August 2014, having previously been used as a neonatal unit.
Mr Rings explains the unit is intended for treating patients infected with, or suspected to be infected with, frequently fatal diseases such as Ebola, SARS and Bird Flu. These diseases carry anywhere between a 50 to 90 per cent death rate, he says.
The rooms, which cost around $125,000 to fit out for purpose, have not yet been used and New Zealand has so far had only one suspected case of Ebola, which later turned out to be a false alarm. However, Mr Rings says, it is essential the facilities exist should they be needed.
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The facility comprises a ‘hub’ from where practitioners can view patients through a glass window in what is referred to as Red Zone One (a second Red Zone also exists). The window has venetian blinds to give the patient privacy but these are contained between two layers of glass to prevent the spread of disease.
Before tending to a patient in either of the two red zone rooms, clinical staff must put on two levels of personal protective equipment (PPE). These comprise a full length body suit, plus gloves, boot covers, N95 mask and face protection. A second layer comprises a plastic disposable sleeved gown and a second set of gloves.
The cost of one set of PPE is $23. Getting dressed in protective clothing takes about eight minutes and staff can only remain in the clothing for two hours because of the heat. Staff take off the equipment in the “Orange Zone”, and this takes somewhere between 10 and 12 minutes and involves another staff member, who must themselves be wearing level one protective gear.
All material to leave the red zones must be gassed with hydrogen peroxide, and even sealed bags must be gassed prior to leaving the unit.
“Nothing leaves here unless it has been decontaminated or it is containerised, except staff,” Mr Rings says.
The equipment in the red zones is in working order but considered disposable, and all the PPE gear is disposed after use except for the visors, which are gassed, he says.
If a patient is suspected of having an infectious disease such as Ebola or SARS, they will be transported to the unit in an ‘iso–pod’, which is basically a breathable plastic bag.
Mr Rings says the unit can be ready to take a patient within 15 to 20 minutes of being notified, and the maximum number of patients it can take is four.