Ready for Anything

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haz-mat, suits, pathogen, Ebola, hospital, patient
Special pathogens response drill, 2017

If an especially dangerous virus like Ebola strikes Southern California, it probably won’t happen like it does in the movies.

But in some ways, it’s a little like a superhero movie. A team of specially trained experts is ready to suit up hazmat-style and face Ebola, MERS, or any other headline-grabbing pathogen.

Each member brings their own strengths to the Special Pathogen Response Team at Cedars-Sinai, 1 of 10 teams in the US selected to treat diseases that are highly infectious and pose a serious risk.

“We’re ready to protect the health and safety of our staff and the patients who need us.”

If one of these worst-case-scenario infections breaks out, patients would be transported to one of the 10 teams.

“We take this preparation very seriously,” says  Dr. Jonathan Grein, director of hospital epidemiology and the team’s leader. “We’re ready to protect the health and safety of our staff and the patients who need us. We want to do everything we can to provide high-level care to patients safely, and that’s what our volunteer team is all about.”

The mission

The team conducts drills year-round so they’re ready for any disease that’s highly infectious and can cause serious illness or death. In addition to Ebola, they’ve also run simulations with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome—or MERS.

'If we're ready for Ebola, we're ready for just about anything,' Dr. Grein says. Click To Tweet

The simulations are as realistic as possible. In August 2018, they’ll run one of their most aggressive drills ever. They’ll take actual blood draws from the “patient” and run tests in the mobile laboratory.

The team

The squad includes infectious disease doctors, nurses, critical care doctors, a pediatrician, an obstetrician, and respiratory therapists. Some additional members of the team are not who you might expect:

  • The transport specialist. Environmental Service workers at the hospital are the first line of defense in infection control. They’ve plotted out every aspect of how to handle any waste that comes from a room accommodating a patient with Ebola or other serious infection—right down to the path they’d take through the halls.
  • The techie. Samples aren’t “sent out to the lab.” The lab comes to the patient. A mobile lab is set up in an adjacent room, where all blood tests would be processed by lab techs on the team.
  • The getaway driver. If a patient needs to be transported from another hospital to be treated by the team, they’ve already picked the drivers and plotted the routes.
  • The accomplice. But how does the team know the hospital is ready to take on anything? From time to time they send in an actor pretending to have specific symptoms that should tip off emergency room personnel that they may be dealing with a high-threat disease and they need to contact the Special Pathogen Response Team. (Not technically a member of the team—but an important part of the preparations.)

Read: Donating Blood During a Disaster: How It Helps


They hope they’ll never have to apply their well-honed skills to an actual outbreak, but knowing how to take the maximum precautions for the most dangerous contagions helps the team look at how they can better protect patients from more routine illnesses too.

“If we’re ready for Ebola, we’re ready for just about anything,” Dr. Grein says.

haz-mat, suits, pathogen, Ebola, hospital, isolation tent
Suited up and ready for patients—special pathogens response drill, 2017

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