U hospital set to provide Ebola care

The West Bank facility is one of four across Minnesota that are ready to treat the deadly virus.

Cody Nelson

The University of Minnesota Medical Center has agreed to care for patients diagnosed with Ebola, the Minnesota Hospital Association announced Friday.

The West Bank hospital is one of four health care facilities in Minnesota that will provide ongoing treatment for the deadly virus if necessary.

The country’s only confirmed cases of Ebola have surfaced in Texas and New York.

The other hospitals planning to care for possible Ebola patients are the Mayo Clinic Hospital, St. Marys campus, in Rochester; the Allina Health Unity Hospital in Fridley; and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in St. Paul.

Leaders from the hospitals began talks with the Minnesota Hospital Association early last week regarding the state’s response to a possible Ebola case.

“[We] felt that it was our responsibility to step up and develop a coordinated plan, and [we] wanted to do that together,” said Carolyn Wilson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the University hospital.

The infected patient’s individual needs and location would factor into which hospital he or she would go to, in addition to which hospital has an open bed, Wilson said.

University health care officials have stressed that the institution is sufficiently prepared if a case of Ebola comes to Minnesota.

When asked whether Friday’s announcement marked a precautionary move or if the state is expecting isolated cases of Ebola, Medical School Dean and Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Brooks Jackson said, “I don’t think we really know.”

It’s difficult to predict the likelihood of a case coming to Minnesota, he said, adding that the probability depends on how severe the outbreak becomes in West Africa and how much it spreads.

“It’s certainly feasible or possible that we will get a case,” Jackson said, citing Minnesota’s large population of residents with family in West Africa.

If a possible case of Ebola surfaces, Wilson said, health care providers across the state are expected to handle the initial screenings for the virus. And if tests are positive for Ebola, local health care workers will contact state officials, who will then coordinate with the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The University hospital currently has one bed in a containment unit specifically for Ebola, and Wilson said it likely won’t add more beds.

Health care staff members who work with an infectious patient would receive special training as necessary, she said.

If the University hospital takes an Ebola case, it will stay at the West Bank hospital, Wilson said, and the patient will not go to the busier East Bank or pediatric health care facilities on campus.

Any equipment used on a patient with Ebola would only be used for cases of the virus.

No diagnoses, but much discussion

Though no Minnesotans have been diagnosed with Ebola in its largest outbreak ever, the state has been at the forefront of discussions regarding the virus’ spread in the United States.

Minnesota has the nation’s largest population of immigrants from Liberia, which is among the nations hardest hit by Ebola.

A group of state politicians, including Gov. Mark Dayton, recently called on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen passengers flying to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from Ebola-stricken countries.

The CDC announced earlier this month that all passengers coming to the U.S. from countries with large Ebola outbreaks will be routed through one of five airports. The closest one to Minneapolis is in Chicago.

The Ebola outbreak has become highly politicized in Minnesota’s race for U.S. Senator, a seat currently held by Democrat Al Franken.

His Republican challenger, Mike McFadden, has taken on the issue in his campaign and called for a ban on travelers from West African countries.

He’s also been critical of Franken’s response to the epidemic so far. Franken’s most public action on Ebola was joining Dayton and others in their request for the CDC to conduct health screenings at the Twin Cities’ airport.