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Biocontainment unit proposed for North Shore-LIJ health system

A biocontainment unit on par with those at U.S. hospitals that have successfully treated patients infected with Ebola is planned for the North Shore University-Long Island Jewish Health System, officials said Thursday.

North Shore-LIJ estimates the proposed unit would cost about $15 million and may take 18 months or longer to build. Health system officials have not decided where to place it.

The unit would serve as the treatment site for patients infected with any one of several deadly and highly contagious diseases. The decision to build it comes as worldwide concern over Ebola grows.

Ebola is spreading unabated in three West African countries, where makeshift hospitals and armies of foreign volunteers have yet to make a dent in the epidemic.

"Even though there is obviously minimal risk in the New York area or the U.S. in general of a major Ebola outbreak, the one thing this epidemic did bring to light is the need for greater improvements in preparing for a real pandemic," said North Shore-LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam.

"There are so many infectious diseases out there that could impact the public to a greater extent than Ebola that we felt there was a need to develop a more permanent solution for any pandemic that might surface in the future," Lynam said.

North Shore-LIJ experts will model their unit after the Biocontainment Patient Care Unit at the University of Nebraska in Omaha and the Serious Communicable Disease Unit at Emory University in Atlanta. Americans who contracted Ebola while on medical missions in West Africa were successfully treated in those facilities.

Michael Dowling, North Shore-LIJ's chief executive, said the global risk of Ebola will not disappear any time soon.

Other contagious infections in hot zones elsewhere also will remain a concern, he said.

"As underscored last week by Governor Cuomo's designation of North Shore-LIJ as a regional resource . . . we have a responsibility to prepare and protect the communities we serve," Dowling said in a statement Thursday.

The health system, meanwhile, is establishing a volunteer team of critical care experts and creating a temporary specialized treatment center at Glen Cove Hospital, officials said. They said the hospital could provide isolation care around the clock and also house medical personnel should they need to stay on site.

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