New national training center set to make healthcare industry Ebola-ready

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) | U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

Ebola and other emerging threats won’t stand a chance against a U.S. healthcare industry that’s well-prepped to manage such infectious diseases through the newly launched National Ebola Training and Education Center.

The center is a collaboration between the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and three academic institutions: Emory University in Atlanta; the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha; and Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City.

“This designation shows that Nebraska is leading the nation in providing the very best medical practices that facilities across the country can learn from and apply to their own procedures,” said Tom Doheny, communications director for U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

“Researchers and medical experts from around the world will look to and work with UNMC on ways to treat and care for victims of this virus and other infectious diseases,” Doheny told BioPrepWatch on Wednesday.

Doheny also said that UNMC has been prepared for the treatment of Ebola and other highly infectious agents for the last decade and Sen. Fischer has worked closely with the institution to aid federal efforts for treatment and to push for proactive policies and strategies to address outbreaks.

Sen. Fischer, who is chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also sent a letter in January to the HHS Secretary regarding this designation for UNMC. She encouraged the department to “formalize an agreement with UNMC to develop and implement a long-term national training strategy and to play a major role in the continued treatment of patients.”

Since December 2014, in fact, both Emory and UNMC have been working with the CDC to train roughly 460 healthcare workers from 87 healthcare systems, including 37 designated Ebola treatment centers. The workers are being trained on all aspects of infection control and patient care for people who have contracted Ebola, according to HHS.

And this summer, both institutions plan to offer more training for up to approximately 400 staffers from Ebola assessment hospitals.
Going forward, plans are for the new National Ebola Training and Education Center to expand on this initial work and offer state health departments and healthcare facilities increased access to the institutions’ clinical expertise and training capabilities.

“The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa is proof that a threat anywhere can be a threat everywhere; the United States must continue to prepare,” said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. “Hospitals are often the first place where a new disease threat is recognized.”

As co-leaders of the new center, UNMC, Emory and Bellevue will receive $12 million over the next five years from the two HHS offices to subsidize the training of healthcare providers and facilities staff.

Specifically, U.S. healthcare professionals will be better prepared to safely identify, isolate, transport and treat patients suffering from Ebola and other such emerging threats. In turn, they will significantly contribute to the nation’s health security “by developing and teaching evidence-based practices of experienced providers and healthcare institutions in caring for patients,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS.

“While this training starts with Ebola, it also will help the healthcare community deal with other serious infectious diseases in the future,” Lurie said.

The launch of this new center follows an HHS announcement in mid-June that it had selected nine health departments and associated partner hospitals to become special regional treatment centers for patients with Ebola or other infectious diseases.

Each awardee in the ASPR Hospital Preparedness Program will receive about $3.25 million over a five-year project period. The funding is part of the almost $340 million in emergency funding appropriated by Congress to enhance state and local public health and healthcare system preparedness following the Ebola outbreak in the U.S. that stemmed from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa last year.

The nine regional facilities – located in Massachusetts, New York City, Maryland, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Washington State -- are part of a national network of 55 Ebola treatment centers.