The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is one of only nine hospitals in the country selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be a regional treatment center for patients with Ebola or other highly infectious disease.

UTMB will receive about $3.25 million over five years from the HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to pay for training for staff, plan development and purchase of personal protective equipment, UTMB officials said.

“This designation is recognition of the exceptional interface of research and clinical care available at UTMB Health,” said Donna Sollenberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer for UTMB’s Health System. “Our expertise in the research of emerging infectious diseases, including Ebola, at the Galveston National Laboratory, as well as our expertise in the care of patients with infectious diseases is nationally recognized.”

HHS selected health departments and partner hospitals across the country to serve as regional treatment centers that would strengthen the nation’s ability to respond to infectious diseases. To be eligible facilities had to be assessed by a Rapid Ebola Preparedness team led by the Centers for Disease Control prior to February.

With this designation UTMB, which is partnering with the Texas Department of State Health Services, will be expected to be continuously ready and available to care for patients with Ebola or other highly infectious diseases.

“UTMB Health System was the only organization within the region prepared and qualified to serve as the designated treatment center,” said Deborah McGrew, Chief Operating Officer at UTMB.

UTMB will serve as the designated Ebola treatment center for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico, McGrew said.

The funds coming to UTMB as part of this designation will go toward paying for staff training as well as for the development of a response program, developing protocols for transferring a patient within the region and for the purchase of personal protection equipment.

Proper training for staff members is one of the most important and potentially costly aspects of preparing to treat patients with Ebola and other highly infectious diseases, said Dr. Scott Lea, the Infectious Diseases Clinic Director at UTMB.

“You can have a biocontainment center but if you don’t have the right people that are trained properly you can’t use it appropriately,” Lea said.

Lea applauded the federal government for making the funds available to set up the regional centers. UTMB will be able to treat patients not just with Ebola but with other highly infectious diseases such as Lassa fever, Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever and Kyasanur Forest Disease, among others, Lea said.

“These are illnesses that are devastating to their local communities and in 2015 a person with a one of these diseases could step on a plane and be in the United States within hours,” Lea said.

Some of the requirements for being designated a treatment center include:

  • Accept patients within eight hours of being notified,
  • Have the capacity to simultaneously treat at least two Ebola patients,
  • Have respiratory infectious disease isolation capacity or negative pressure rooms for at least 10 patients,
  • Conduct quarterly trainings and exercises,
  • Be able to treat pediatric patients with Ebola or other infectious diseases or partner with a neighboring facility to do so, and,
  • Be able to safely handle Ebola-contaminated or other highly contaminated infectious waste.