Veteran nurse, Sondra Morris, selected to lead nurses on Special Isolation Unit’s Special Response Team

September 2, 2015

9315SIUinside640Texas Children’s veteran nurse Sondra Morris recently was chosen to lead the Special Response Team’s nursing unit.

Nurses will make up a significant portion of the specially-trained portion of the team, which will be called to action if the soon-to-be-complete Special Isolation Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus is activated. The eight-bed unit is designed for children with highly contagious infectious diseases. Similar to the four other biocontainment units in the country, the one at Texas Children’s will be one of the only in the United States designated just for children.

“Sondra is the best person for this job for many reasons, one of the main ones being she has led nursing teams in the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Center,” said Shannon McCord, director of patient services at West Campus. “She has skill and expertise in working with the unexpected.”

Morris joined Texas Children’s 20 years ago as a graduate nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). During her time with the PICU, Morris worked as a transport nurse and later became a nurse manger.

As the Kangaroo Crew was becoming its own department, Morris transitioned to the nurse manager for that team. She spent five years there and completed her Master’s of Science in Nursing Management before moving to the Emergency Center as the assistant clinical director.

Last year when Morris learned about the creation of the Special Isolation Unit, she said she applied for the nursing leader position because she thought “it would be a unique, challenging and innovative unit that would be full of new opportunities, one of which would be building a unique nursing team that will take care of highly infectious patients, such as those with Ebola, MERS or other highly infectious pathogens.”

To date, at least 40 nurses across the Texas Children’s system have volunteered to be part of the nursing unit on the Special Response Team. The unit will work with a group of physicians, medical technologists and environmental service technicians if the Special Isolation Unit is activated.

There will be three to six nurses assigned to a patient based on the acuity of the case. Some nurses will be by the bedside while others will be observing, documenting and helping other team members donn and doff personal protective equipment.

Recruitment of all positions is ongoing. To learn more about joining the Special Response Team, click here.

“I already am impressed by the team’s dedication and passion for learning and for their willingness to care for this vulnerable patient population,” Morris said. “While I hope to rarely activate the SIU team, I am confident these patients will be in the best place to receive the best care possible.”

The decision to build a special isolation unit came last year after an unprecedented Ebola outbreak, resulting in the realization that we must be prepared to handle emerging infections as an institution. This new unit, which is scheduled to open in October, will incorporate all of the latest scientific and technological approaches to biocontainment, including negative air pressure, laminar air flow, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration, separate ventilation, anterooms, biosafety cabinets, a point-of-care laboratory, special security access, autoclaves and incinerators. There will be two levels of protection from airborne particles, as well as a comprehensive waste management plan, among other safety features.

It will be fully equipped to care for any infant or child with a serious communicable disease, with all of the measures available to assure safety of the health care team, other patients and their families. A point-of-care biosafety level 3 laboratory will enable the care team to monitor the progress of patients and perform rapid detection methods to identify unusual pathogens. Housed at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, the unit is anticipated to have capacity for eight patients, all in private rooms.

This specialized unit will be led by Dr. Gordon Schutze, who will serve as medical director, as well as Dr. Judith Campbell and Dr. Amy Arrington, who will be the unit’s associate medical directors. The Special Response Team will staff the unit and will be trained in infection control, hospital epidemiology and management of infectious diseases in the critical care setting. The staff will maintain their certification through participation in ongoing educational activities.

When the Special Isolation Unit isn’t activated, it will be used as a new acute care unit for West Campus. Morris is assistant clinical director of 5 West when the Special Isolation Unit isn’t being used.