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Facility Administrator Speaks on Bioterrorism Ward’s ‘Peacetime’ Role

08/24/2012 -

Olive View-UCLA Medical Center’s$53-million dollar bioterrorism ward was part of an expansion of the facility’s emergency room. The containment unit was designed to hold up to 30 patients in the event of a biological attack.

For now, the ward isused to treat severe cases of tuberculosis(TB). On Tuesday I contacted L.A. County to learn more about the department. Azar Kattan, associate administrator of the facility provided these details:

The idea for the expansion came after the 9-11 attacks and anthrax attacks in 2001. The country decided to expand the facility's emergency room.

Thenew emergency room opened in March of 2011 and the bioterrorism unit opened five months later. The purpose of the new unit was to increase L.A. County’s isolation capacity after bioterrorism incidents or a large infectious disease outbreak, but officials wanted to make sure the facility would still be useful "in peacetime."

On using the unit for TB patients:

“We didn’t want to build those 30 beds and have them sitting empty all the time so we thought about what other needs for those beds would be. There’s always a need for isolation units because we have a lot of patients that have MRSA or TB or other kinds of infectious diseases. We didn’t want to have the rooms sitting there waiting for an event that hopefully never occurs.”

On what would happen to TB patients if a biological attack did occur:

“We would probably absorb them into the regular hospital census or send them to other hospitals. If there are some patients that could be sent to home isolation, we could discharge those if needed. We could [also] create a unit and secure it off and reserve it for those patients. Hospitals move quickly when they have to do something. We’re pretty good about responding to emergency situations. We’ve had two earthquakes and two major fires our here. You adapt.”

The unit only has 15TB patients at any given time, she said.

“The idea is that [unit] would be specifically for people from abioterrorism incident so we could keep them together for management purposes.”

photo fromOlive View Medical Center – Electronic Operation and Maintenance Manuals