University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Level-Three Infectious Disease Intensive Care Unit

To prepare for an infectious disease outbreak, a portion of the Surgical and Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit (SNICU) was converted into a biocontainment care space. Federal funds helped the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) create this level-three infectious disease intensive care unit.  

When activated, this separate pod of rooms is called the “UIHC Special Pathogens Unit” or SPU.

“Shortly after UIHC took possession, a three-person site assessment team from the National Ebola (and other Special Pathogens) Training and Education Centers (NETEC) visited UIHC and reviewed the SPU, our special pathogens readiness and care program, and UIHC’s overall preparedness for infectious disease outbreaks,” says UIHC Emergency Manager Michael Hartley, NRP, CHEC.

This NETEC site assessment team consisted of a leader from:

  • Bellevue Hospital, New York (now University of Washington Medical Center)
  • Emory University’s Highly Communicable Diseases Care Unit in Atlanta
  • University of Nebraska’s Biocontainment Unit

An Executive Officer from the Iowa Department of Public Health also accompanied the assessment.

“A written report is due when time allows during this outbreak,” says Hartley. “They described our unit and program as ‘outstanding’ and that we’ve done ‘tremendous work.’”

Architect Alan Wieskamp says safety starts with air circulation. “The rooms are provided with dedicated exhaust separate from the HVAC supply units,” Wieskamp says. “This eliminates recirculation of patient’s exhaled air while also keeping the area under negative pressure.”  

The final step in the process was to create a decontamination shower, for patients and staff to thoroughly clean themselves and dispose of any contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE).  The shower area is connected to the dedicated exhaust system, and pressure monitors ensure the correct pressure profile between the dirty and clean areas.

The floor plan includes a soiled utility which was split into two rooms. This allows for a pass-through Autoclave to treat all contaminated waste. All linens, utensils, medical waste and garbage goes through the Autoclave prior to being handled by housekeeping and nursing staff.

The clean supply area is relocated outside the unit and is converted to the access for the decontamination shower. The shower’s highly specialized characteristics are adapted and improved upon from the other level-three and level-four infectious disease treatment centers around the country.


I took a different path to becoming an architect than most. My route started with a connection to a neighbor as a high school kid who liked to build things. I worked my way from pushing a broom to being left on projects to run by myself. I ended up doing lots of shop drawing drafting. You know, the kind with pencil and paper and a parallel bar? I enjoyed that so much that I quit and went back to college. I put myself through design college working for a larger contractor and learned more about the construction process, materials and detailing on bigger projects. Combining this knowledge with my focus on architecture, I’m able to guide my clients through all phases of a building project so they have an understanding of the design but also the implications of decisions on construction time and cost. I approach projects with a keen eye on what it would be like in the field to build their project. How easy or hard am I making it for the contractor? These decisions can make a project less expensive, and I’m always designing as if I’m spending my own money and not someone else’s. This approach has garnered trust with those I serve. And many times those clients have become personal friends.

I have a wide range of interests. These interests are reflected in my portfolio ranging from education, government, healthcare, historic preservation and industrial buildings. The diversity keeps me sharp and the work exciting. I constantly find that I can pull from these broad interests to inspire design in projects. My enthusiasm has shown my clients that I care about them and their projects.

Alan Wieskamp, AIA, LEED AP

Licensed Architect