CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You don't really go to the hospital if you're healthy, and so the people who run them have to be prepared for just about anything, from a broken leg to, lately, the Ebola virus.
You can't overstate the importance of doctors when it comes to stopping the spread of disease. But how exactly can the design of a hospital make a difference?
FreemanWhite is based in Charlotte; they've been the architects behind more than 300 emergency rooms, and they say maybe the number one way to keep a disease from spreading is just having a private room for patients, instead of separating them with curtains. On top of that, every ER also comes with an isolation room.
"An isolation space is going to contain that patient's air and germs," says Kristyna Culp, FreemanWhite's chief operating officer. "It's a negative pressure room. Air is going to come in and be filtered out in the exhaust, so you don't worry about their germs spreading throughout the emergency department. You can quarantine them off."
Typically, an ambulance will call ahead if a patient needs to be quarantined, but if they come in off the street, a triage nurse has to act quickly if that patient is sick enough to be isolated. So it makes sense that isolation rooms are usually close to triage and next to any decontamination area.
NBC Charlotte looked around for other cases where an emergency room was closed. It's very rare, and typically it happens with some sort of hazmat situation, where a patient's been exposed to a chemical.
Two years ago in Florida, a guy drank a chemical you'd find in commercial bug killer, and the fumes from it contaminated the paramedics, the ambulance and part of the ER, which had to be shut down to get cleaned. And in Missouri in 2008, eight people were taken to the ER after a chemical spill. Again, the ER was shut down for decontamination.
If you had something like tuberculosis, which is highly contagious, chances are good that doctors would keep you isolated in a room, and wear masks or something like that, not shut down an entire wing of the ER. But as we saw Wednesday, being extra cautious might be the new norm.
"Not every emergency department is able to just shut down an area," says Culp. "You can shut down that one room, but that may still be very close to other patients. So just to be extra cautious, they're just going to shut down the entire area. I would rather be safe than sorry in that situation."