Hospital to build child Ebola unit

Egleston facility’s announcement can mean preparedness, apprehension.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston is building a special isolation unit dedicated to treating children with Ebola.

Hospital spokeswoman Patty Gregory confirmed the construction of the unit in early November, though she stressed that the children’s hospital did not have any patient with the Ebola virus at the time.

Infectious disease experts say that establishing such a unit can be a double-edged sword for a hospital. On one hand, it can bestow a level of prestige and preparedness to the facility. But it can also create concerns among the public that the virus is present there.

“People may be reluctant to go there, ” said Dr. Dennis Maki, a University of Wisconsin-Madison infectious disease specialist. “It’s courageous for a hospital to step up and do this, but there could be a price to be paid.”

The Children’s Healthcare website makes reference to the new isolation unit, but does not name which of the company’s hospitals will have it.

Children’s Healthcare has three hospitals —- Egleston, Hughes Spalding and Scottish Rite —- and more than 20 neighborhood locations in metro Atlanta. Egleston is located at 1405 Clifton Road in northeast Atlanta, across the street from Emory University Hospital.

“We are creating an isolated Special Care Unit where we would provide care to children with possible or confirmed Ebola virus infections, ” said the section of the Children’s Healthcare website titled “Ebola: Children’s is Prepared.”

The site added, “This unit will provide care to a child who needs special isolation and is run by specially trained staff.”

The establishment of a children’s isolation unit in Atlanta comes as hospitals, doctors’ offices and public health facilities across the country train and equip their staffs to handle a patient with the disease. Georgia may be at a higher risk for such an occurrence, health experts say. They note that Emory University Hospital is among four designated biocontainment units for Ebola patients in the nation, and that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is among five airports designated to accept travelers from the Ebola “hot zone” countries in West Africa.

The AJC submitted several questions to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta asking for the timetable for building the new children’s unit, as well as the costs, level of equipment and number of beds.

CHOA responded with a written statement that answered virtually none of those questions.

The statement said, “We have comprehensive public health emergency preparedness plans and are able to safely identify and care for a child with a serious communicable disease, including Ebola.”

Hospital officials noted that CHOA is not on the state Department of Public Health’s list of hospitals designated to treat Ebola. The state’s Ebola Response Team has said training is underway at seven treatment hospitals across the state that would care for patients believed to be infected with the deadly virus. Emory, which has already treated four infected patients, is among the facilities.

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