April 26, noon: A blue cooler containing specimen samples is wheeled to the Microbiology Biothreats Laboratory in the Jackson Building. It is in this 283-square-foot room where, for the next three hours, a group of laboratory technicians will carefully and efficiently test the samples for possible Ebola virus disease as well as other labs that will help direct patient care.
The scenario is one of the Center for Disaster Medicine’s (CDM) monthly exercises, and the drill is as close to a real-life situation as possible.
“The lab is a vital yet often unseen component of our program,” says Eileen Searle, MPH, RN/NP, CCRN, Biothreats Clinical Operations program manager in the CDM.
Senior Medical Technologists Akita Joshi and Derek Bielawski—both newcomers to the drills—properly sterilize and label all specimen containers in the hood before transferring them through the airlock chamber into the negatively pressured biosafety cabinet. It is in this cabinet that all specimen testing will occur, preventing exposure to any airborne pathogen.
In addition to training staff members who have not taken part in a drill, the lab leadership and CDM staff assess and update processes based on feedback from this and previous drills. These included new methods of donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE), effective transport of the medical waste after testing was complete, ensuring labels do not wipe off the tubes and that all information flows seamlessly into Epic.
“We aren’t teaching clinicians how to be clinicians,” Searle says. “What we have to do is practice a different way of doing things so when there is an actual event, our clinicians will know just what to do.”