Serious infectious disease network launched

CONTACT: Mary McIntyre, M.D., M.P.H., SSBB, (334) 206-5200
Sue Esslinger, Huntsville Hospital Health System, (256) 265-8317
Bob Shepard, UAB Hospital, (205) 410-0915
Jennifer Ekman, USA Medical Center, (251) 471-7262

In response to several national disease outbreaks, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is launching a serious infectious disease network. The network will help identify and appropriately route patients for treatment if an outbreak occurs.

A critical part of this network is the assessment hospital component, and three Alabama hospitals will be serving in this capacity, Huntsville Hospital, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital and the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile.

“Handling these diseases that are new to our health system is a complex process that involves many key players,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary McIntyre, ADPH. “One of the more critical components is the identification and testing of individuals who may be carriers of the disease. For that we have partnered with these three hospitals to serve as assessment centers in an effort to best focus our resources.”

Dr. McIntyre explained that if a suspected highly infectious disease occurs, patients meeting certain criteria who are identified by other hospitals or health care providers would be transferred to one of the three assessment centers for further testing. If the infection is confirmed, the patient would then be transferred to a regional treatment center, with Emory Medical Center being the closest to Alabama.

She added, “The state plan was developed based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and each hospital worked within the guidelines to develop comprehensive plans to effectively diagnose the individuals, while at the same time protecting staff and other patients. Typically, an assessment hospital would only keep the patient a short while before identifying the infection and transferring the patient to the treatment center if he or she tests positive.”

“We really appreciate the hospitals stepping up to prepare for the possibility of infectious diseases and exposures we may not even be aware of yet,” Dr. McIntyre said. “Among other things, the hospitals have to provide isolation rooms with negative airflow and special protective equipment for staff. They must also limit the number of staff who would be coming in contact with potentially infected patients. I’m pleased to say that all of the individuals staffing these units have volunteered to do so.”

“We welcome the statewide collaboration and the support from the Alabama Department of Public Health to better coordinate our response to provide medical evaluation and care to individuals with a suspected serious infection. This line of defense will help our communities, our hospital staff and the patient population in all hospitals,” said Dr. Robert W. Chappell, Huntsville Hospital Chief Medical Officer/Chief Quality Officer.

“UAB Medicine is committed to constantly looking for any opportunity to advance our mission and enhance the services we provide our patients in Birmingham, around the state and beyond,” said UAB Medicine Senior Vice President of Inpatient Services Anthony Patterson. “A broad UAB team, including our experts in emergency medicine and infectious diseases, is excited to be recognized by ADPH as a facility that is prepared to safely and effectively serve this important role for Alabama.”

“As the region’s only academic medical center and Level I Trauma Center, USA Medical Center is uniquely suited to provide this service to our community,” said Sam Dean, USA Medical Center Administrator. “Our unit is a part of our overall mission to help people lead longer, better lives.”

Dr. McIntyre notes that the creation of the network has been at least two years in the making and involved a lot of time and resources, not only of hospitals, but also for emergency medical service providers who will be providing the secure transportation for these individuals, the medical waste companies who will be providing secure waste disposal and others.