Written by Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Hoskins
Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
Monrovia, Liberia – The Monrovia Medical Unit, an Ebola treatment unit constructed specifically for the treatment of medical workers who were infected while caring for Ebola patients, is scheduled to open November 8th, located about 30 miles outside Monrovia, Liberia.
“The Monrovia Medical Unit, otherwise known as an MMU, is different than an Ebola treatment unit – ETU – because our main purpose is to give hope to doctors and nurses as we will be treating any suspected or infected cases that happen around West Africa,” said Lt. Shane Deckert, the MMU facility engineer, with the U.S. Public Health Service.
No other facility like this exists, said Lt. Col. Lee Hicks, the Joint Forces Command – United Assistance command engineer.
“If an aide worker gets sick, they bring them to the MMU to get taken care of by the U.S. Public Health Service,” said Hicks. “It’s an incentive for health care workers to go work in an ETU, knowing that if they get sick, they’ll be taken care of.”
The 25-bed facility was constructed from the ground up by a team of Navy Seabees, Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Forces Command – United Assistance and will be operated by personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service, said hicks.
Before arriving to Liberia to help construct and run the MMU, medical personnel from the USPHS, contacted other treatment facilities to compile and absorb as much information on best practices for ETUs, said Cmdr. Tom Janisko, a physician’s assistant with USPHS who will be working in preventative medicine there.
Once on the ground in Liberia, the USPHS team trained extensively before doing rounds at an active ETU, he said.
The MMU compound is separated into two – one side is the low-risk zone for medical workers and support staff; the other side is the high-risk zone for suspected and infected patients, he said.
The structure is comprised of 12 tents, four that make up an administrative area for staff members and eight that make up three wards for patients and other necessary services, said Deckert.
The administrative tents are where all the behind-the-scenes work happens – the ordering of personal protective gear, scheduling, processing of paperwork, eating meals.
The high-risk zone is where the patients reside and receive treatment. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, the two halves do not connect in any way.
“The most acute ward would be for the patients who have Ebola,” said Janisko. This is the confirmed ward.
“There’s nothing else like the MMU in Liberia,” said Hicks. “It has everything to take care of folks who may have Ebola or do have Ebola and help them recover from that deadly virus. It’s the first time it’s ever been built like this and used in this type of fashion.”
Along with the laboratory, there is a pharmacy, behavioral health section, and a patient reception area on the grounds as well, said Janisko. Restrooms and showers are located behind the wards.
The reception area is unlike most in that it is outdoors. The patients speak to their friends and family members through a windowless structure that is six feet away from a similar structure on the other side of the compound’s fence.
Studies have shown that when Ebola is emitted from a patient due to a sneeze or spittle from a cough, it dies before traveling approximately a meter, said Janisko.
The entire fenced-in compound is nearly self-contained, needing only resupply of water, fuel and food, said Deckert. Fuel supplies two large generators that power the electricity and one small generator that powers the perimeter lighting. The water is for cleaning and decontaminating personnel and equipment.
Every detail was thought out, said Deckert. The complex is built on a slope so that any infectious materials or fluids would drain away from the safe zone in case of heavy rainfall.
There’s also an incinerator on site to dispose of used personal protective equipment so that no trace of the virus leaves the compound, said Deckert.