A state-of-the-art biocontainment unit opens at MedStar Washington Hospital Center



MedStar Washington Hospital Center has opened a state-of-the-art Biocontainment Unit (BCU) that will be used primarily for monitoring and flexed for respiratory isolation and will be more flexible to care for patients with highly contagious diseases – including quarantine diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox , yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers (such as Marburg, Ebola, Crimean and Congo), and acute respiratory syndromes.

The new 15-bed unit took seven years to develop and build. In 2014, there was a growing national concern about it Ebola virus disease (EVD). To prepare for our community’s needs, our plans included converting a large portion of the emergency department (ED) into a temporary biocontainment unit, which is a very daunting task, said Shane Kapler, MD, medical director of the newly designated biocontainment unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “We knew we needed to find a new way to provide the resources needed to care for these patients with special pathogens. And this is this new unit.”

Located physically adjacent to the hospital’s emergency department, the 6,800 square foot space contains 10 respiratory isolation beds and two specially designated biocontainment rooms, with a waiting room in between. The waiting room is where team members remove required personal protective equipment (PPE) that they have used to provide patient care for a specific rotation period. The team and patients are monitored continuously by a guard outside the room watching through the glass and a safety officer on a live camera feed. Negative air pressure ensures that infectious particles do not spread into the hallway or other parts of the hospital, preventing the spread of infection.

Construction of the biocontainment unit was supported by grants from the federal and state governments with comprehensive funds supported by MedStar Health. In October 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (ASPR) Administration of Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) awarded Washington Medstar Hospital Center a $3 million grant to serve as a dedicated regional Emerging Special Pathogen Treatment (RESPTC) center. It was one of three sites selected to expand beyond RESPTC’s existing 10 sites across the country.

“This $3 million ASPR grant provides funding to expand the volume and type of equipment we need to care for more patients and supports our partnership with 12 regional centers for the treatment of specific pathogens,” said Craig Deatley, director of the Emergency Department. Preparedness and Interim Program Director who will manage BCU and award funds at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “We have become a referral center for FEMA Region 3, which includes Washington, D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, and we are partnering with Children’s National Hospital and Johns Hopkins to cover both pediatric and adult patients.”

When not in use for biocontainment or respiratory isolation, the unit can be configured to monitor up to 15 patients who require longer periods of care than the ED can provide but who are not sick enough to warrant inpatient admission. The place also has two private pathogen rooms where operations or labor and delivery procedures can be performed.

MedStar Health’s significant investment in the unit underscores the system’s commitment to improving and providing safe care for patients with pathogens, and is an invaluable addition to MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s portfolio of existing services such as cardiology, cancer, trauma and burns.

This really puts us at the forefront of health organizations in the United States, and our biocontainment unit is another differentiator that allows us to serve our community and expand our regional and national preparedness. “


Shane Kapler, MD, medical director, Biocontainment Unit, MedStar Washington Hospital Center

MedStar Washington Hospital Center is part of the National Training and Education Center for Special Emerging Pathogens, or NETEC, where a consortium of hospitals with expertise in treating specific pathogens shares lessons learned with goals of driving best practice, closing knowledge gaps, and developing innovative resources.



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