MUSC training focuses on Ebola, other infectious diseases

Holland Erisman is one of the newest members of the unit. The team is trained to handle patients with high-risk infectious diseases, such as Ebola.

In full, protective medical gear, Holland Erisman stripped a patient of his hospital gown and cleaned his body, dirty from bodily fluids associated with Ebola or some other contagious illness.

The patient was a dummy, but served as good practice for Erisman, one of the newest members of the Specialized Medical Unit at the Medical University of South Carolina, the only one of its kind in the state.

Training held last week taught members how to handle patients with high-risk infectious diseases, such as Ebola and MERS-CoV, a viral respiratory illness.

Treatment includes quarantining the patient, figuring out how long the illness has been present and assessing the risk the patient poses to the public.

Trainees learned how to handle patients if a disease is discovered within an MUSC facility, or somewhere else in the state.

If there’s a patient in Columbia, for example, members of the team have been trained to transport the patient to MUSC and place the patient in an isolation pod.

“There’s an entire security activation that goes on, too, because we’d have to shut down certain streets and hallways, and this unit goes into lockdown with a security presence ... it’s very methodical,” said Kathy Lehman-Huskamp, the hospital’s emergency preparedness medical director.

Brandy Pockrus, the clinical leader for the medical unit, said her experience as a firefighter is one of the reasons she was interested in joining the team.

The Specialized Medical Unit began in 2014. That same year, the unit had its only real scare when a potential Ebola patient was rushed in. That patient was cleared. Since then, the team has participated in several drills, but team members aren’t told that these are drills until after they are over.

“That keeps us on our toes and reminds us that anything can happen at any time,” Pockrus said.

Doctors have heard that residents in some communities are apprehensive about having these units at their local hospitals because they don’t want contagious, potentially deadly diseases in their backyard. But Pockrus added that having a unit nearby in Charleston is a huge benefit.

“A lot of our team members have self-sacrificing roles on their resumes,” she said. “They are high performers who believe in quality care no matter the disease.”

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.