The University of Arizona Medical Center has accepted a request by the Arizona Department of Health Services to become one of the state's first Infectious Disease Treatment Center of Excellence, making it southern Arizona's designated hospital for the treatment of emerging infectious diseases, such as Ebola.
Maricopa Integrated Health System in Phoenix was the first. There are no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in Arizona. Public health officials said the step is precautionary.
"As an academic medical center, our mission is to provide cutting-edge medical care, research and leadership, especially in any public health emergency," said Karen Mlawsky, chief executive officer of the Hospital Division of the UA Health Network, which operates both UAMC-University Campus and UAMC-South Campus.
Details of the agreement will be worked out between hospital leadership and state and county public health officials over the next few weeks.
Dr. Sean Elliott, a nationally known pediatric infectious disease specialist and head of infection prevention at the UA Health Network, said the network's hospitals and clinics have been preparing for months for the possibility of a patient arriving with Ebola.
"Even though the likelihood of us seeing an Ebola patient is remote, we are working every day to be ready for that possibility," Elliott said. "Our responsibility for the health and safety of our patients, our health-care workers and the public at large is uppermost in all our minds."
Both hospitals draw on the expertise of dozens of clinicians and researchers who specialize in infectious disease, emergency medicine and critical care, said Elliott, who recently was appointed to the Governor's Council on Infectious Preparedness and Response.
Although both hospitals are prepared to identify and diagnose Ebola, UAMC officials are still debating which hospital is better suited to handling the long-term isolation and treatment of a patient with a highly infectious virus. Because of its location, UAMC-South Campus may be the better choice in the unlikely event an Ebola patient needs treatment in southern Arizona, Elliott said.
Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County Health Department medical director, said the designation does not lessen the need for all Arizona hospitals to be able to appropriately and rapidly identify, isolate, diagnose and stabilize suspected Ebola patients. However, the designation allows health officials to focus training and equipment resources instead of diluting them over many health-care facilities.
"We're grateful that UAMC is willing to take on this responsibility," Garcia said. "Pima County Health Department is prepared to work in lock step with UAMC throughout this process and do everything possible to ensure the hospital is fairly compensated for its efforts."
ADHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cara Christ said the state also is eager to support UAMC, including assistance in obtaining the necessary personal protective equipment should the hospitals have sourcing challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated PPE guidance.
"We are erring on the side of caution to protect the public’s health and safety," Christ said. "Even though the risk is small, Arizona residents should be reassured we are doing everything necessary to safeguard against the disease."