SPOKANE, Wash. -- Saving lives during a crisis requires preparation and training and on Wednesday that training brought a huge airplane to Spokane International Airport.
Things changed in 2014 when the CDC confirmed the first case of the Ebola Virus in the United States. It was like a scene out of the movie "Outbreak." A 42-year-old West African patient developed symptoms about four days after arriving in Dallas, Texas. American hospitals across the country have been preparing for the possibility of new cases ever since.
The largest patient-transport exercise in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services history began Wednesday. More than 50 government and non-government organizations across the country are participating in Operation Tranquil Terminus, a life-like international crisis and public-health exercise that was designed to train health professionals. It tests the nationwide ability to safely treat and move patients with Ebola symptoms and other highly contagious diseases from community hospitals to pre-identified treatment centers.
"We practice these types of operations so we are prepared to help Americans when disaster strikes," said Dr. Robert Kadlec with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Two seriously ill mock patients arrived at Spokane International Airport Wednesday afternoon. They were carried from Boise, Idaho by Phoenix Air in a specially equipped Boeing 747 medevac cargo jet. It is the same company that transported patients during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
"Transporting patients with severe, highly infectious diseases can be particularly challenging," Kadlec said.
It is challenging because they have to be examined and treated in isolation. Then an ambulance, protected with a plastic lining, took the highly infectious "patients" to the Special Pathogens Unit at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children's Hospital. This unit is one of ten regional Ebola treatment centers in the country. It serves Washington State, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.
"That are specially equipped and capable of taking care of highly infectious patients," said Krista Arguinchona, Registered Nurse Coordinator of the Providence Special Pathogens Unit.
Arguinchona is confident that ongoing training and education will keep the area safe.
No new cases of Ebola have been diagnosed in the United States since November 2014. According to health professional, the chances of Scared Heart getting a highly infectious patient are low. Hospitals cannot control what types of patients show up for emergency care so having policy, procedures and an extra level of preparedness in place is essential for the community.