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.