What’s it like to be on the front line of COVID? Caregivers from UMMC's Biocontainment Unit share their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In 2014, when there was concern over a possible Ebola outbreak in the United States, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) established a Biocontainment Unit (BCU) by readying staff and adapting part of an existing intensive care unit.

Dedicated to containing and caring for infectious disease patients, a multidisciplinary team delivers greater care under uniquely challenging circumstances.

Thankfully no Ebola cases came to Baltimore, but the BCU remained part of UMMC's emergency planning. The staff trained regularly and readied themselves for the different scenarios that could lie ahead.

UMMC Had BCU Ready When Coronavirus Hit

In 2020, the BCU became the first COVID-dedicated unit in the University of Maryland Medical System for critically ill patients infected with the novel coronavirus. The team quadrupled in size and played an essential role in caring for COVID-19 patients, especially those needing life-support.

"What's significant isn't that we created a unit, it's that we have medical professionals, nurses and ancillary staff from different backgrounds, coming together and seamlessly working together to treat the sickest patients," explains Louie Lee, RN.

In addition to adding more staff, the Biocontainment Unit's initial location was moved to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center where it could accommodate up to 32 patients, including many on advanced life support, ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). It also uses negative-pressure rooms to prevent the virus from becoming airborne.

"The BCU includes specialty beds that turn patients regularly," says Lee. These high-tech beds help prevent complications from being in one position for too long.

COVID Treatment and Recovery at UMMC

UMMC has other units that care for COVID-positive patients, but the BCU is where the sickest patients throughout the state get treatment and the most advanced care.

And COVID-19 patient trends remain consistent in the BCU. For instance, patients may be any age. The common thread is that they are very sick, with many body functions shutting down.

It is impossible to predict how COVID-19 will impact a person. There have been victories inside the BCU. The very first patient recovered, and the team continues to get updates on his progress. Another patient was a new mom who recovered and was reunited with her baby. The team celebrates these successes and gives them hope for others.

"When it comes to COVID-19, every person is on the frontline including everyone who is at home and anyone wearing a mask. When patients reach us in the BCU, we are the last line," explains Hannah Entwistle, RN. But those very sick patients have a team inside this academic medical center fighting for their survival. Every person in the BCU, covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment, is putting every effort on the line to positively impact the lives of the sickest Marylanders fighting COVID-19.