Inside Nebraska’s Biocontainment Unit

 Posted By: Camila Orti

corti@klkntv.com

For the first time, Channel 8 Eyewitness News got a look inside Nebraska Medicine’s Biocontainment Unit.

A group of about 20 medical professionals from Singapore got to walk around what’s normally considered a “Hot Zone” on Thursday. As one of the nation’s leaders in treating Ebola patients, it wasn’t the first time the Omaha medical center had opened the doors to its state-of-the-art facility.

So far, the unit has treated three people infected with Ebola. Dr. Rick Sacra, NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo and Dr. Martin Salia, who was very sick when he arrived and died from the virus after less than two days of treatment.

“We’ve worked hard you know, for nine years now, in preparation for that day that came,” Shelly Schwedhelm said. Schwedhelm oversees the nursing staff in the Biocontainment Unit.

Now, hospitals around the world are looking to Nebraska Medicine as a guide to treating the deadly virus.

“It’s also very helpful to actually look at the unit, to walk around, get a feel for the space, to ask questions,” Visiting Singapore doctor, Dr. Poh Lian Lim said.

The Biocontainment Unit is located inside the general hospital, but operates like a completely separate facility. For starters, Schwedhelm says doctors and nurses have a “very specific sequential order” for putting on protective equipment, and nothing can leave the unit without being thoroughly decontaminated in the autoclave. That machine blasts its contents with extremely high heat (275 degrees Fahrenheit) in order to kill off any viruses or bacteria.

The 4,100-square-foot facility also features a high-tech video communication system. It has enough beds for ten patients. The first was Dr. Sacra, who arrived and was released back in September.

Nebraska Medicine officials say they’ll continue to offer educational opportunities. For now, they say there aren’t other Ebola patients on the horizon.