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Caring for the Community During the Next Pandemic

Cedars-Sinai Special Pathogens Team Expands Drills to Prepare for Potential Public Health Emergencies

Later this summer, staff members at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital will spring into action when a pretend patient comes to the Emergency Department with symptoms of a virus like Ebola, one of the deadliest, most infectious diseases on the planet.

The exercise is part of the Cedars-Sinai Special Pathogens Response Team’s efforts to bring its expertise in treating dangerous infectious diseases outside the walls of the medical center and into the broader community.

During the emergency drill, front desk staff, nurses, physicians and Environmental Services staff members will work together to diagnose the pretend patient, isolate them and don protective gear to keep themselves and other employees, visitors and patients safe. The care team will transfer the patient to a specialized ambulance, driven by first responders trained to handle highly infectious diseases. In a real-world scenario, the ambulance would swiftly transport an actual patient across town to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  

Joseph Botros“We’re a community hospital, but we’re also the closest one to Los Angeles International Airport. We frequently see patients who acquire different kinds of infections while traveling abroad,” said Joseph Botros, who oversees Infection Control, Emergency Management and Environmental Health and Safety at Marina del Rey Hospital. “Working with the Special Pathogens Response Team is a top priority because we want to provide the highest quality of care to our patients while keeping our staff, visitors and other patients safe.” 

Botros said Marina del Rey Hospital employees are excited to participate in one of the special pathogens drills, which in the past have taken place only at the medical center’s Beverly Grove campus. He credited the COVID-19 pandemic with making staff members more engaged in planning for a public health crisis.

“COVID-19 was a huge turning point where everyone felt the importance of emergency management and how to work safely around infectious diseases. Our team members are eager to be a part of the solution,” Botros said.

In addition to collaborating with Marina del Rey Hospital, the Special Pathogens Response Team practices caring for patients in the community. In early June, the team members—dressed in their protective suits and respirators—left the medical center in an ambulance and rehearsed entering a resident’s home, staged inside the hospital’s Simulation Center. A mobile unit nurse and physician evaluated and tested a pretend patient who developed mild Ebola symptoms after traveling abroad.

The team practiced drawing blood from a manikin’s arm in a dining room while navigating the challenges of a normal house call—treating a patient in a nonclinical setting and dealing with a distracting pet.Jonathan Grein, MD

“Unannounced, we simulated a dog barking,” said Jonathan D. Grein, MD, director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai, who helped establish the team in 2016 as one of a dozen federally funded Regional Ebola Treatment Centers. “If a family had a pet dog, our protocol is to keep them in a different room and close the door because you don’t want a barking dog scratching at your personal protective equipment. It might seem trivial, but it’s important to practice navigating challenges we don’t normally encounter in the hospital.”

After gathering the blood sample, team members packaged it in a series of secure containers and handed it off to Los Angeles County Public Health professionals before sanitizing the pretend dining room.

“The team is always practicing new skills so that we’re better prepared to care for our community in any situation,” Grein said.

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