Fort Worth, TX,
09:37 AM

Pandemic Spurs New Infectious Disease Unit at Cook Children’s

Infectious Disease Unit

The new Infectious Disease Unit will treat more patients in the safest environment possible while protecting the community and Cook Children's staff from the spread of illness.

The six new units have specialized air ventilation systems, dedicated areas for visitors and staff to put on and take off personal protective equipment and technology that allows technicians to closely monitor a patient without having to be directly by the patient's bedside.

Each unit will have a private bathroom, which is an accommodation not available in previous critical care spaces for contagious patients. This allows parents to stay in the room with their child and reduces in-and-out traffic.

The new unit also includes a 24-hours solution center that was also inspired by lessons learned from the pandemic. This center will operate year-round to serve as a one-stop shop for requesting assistance with a facility or operations issue at Cook Children's Health Care System.

By Ashley Antle

Cook Children’s Medical Center has completed its new infectious diseases critical care unit (CCU), meeting the need for a clinical facility dedicated to the treatment of patients with contagious illnesses.

The expansion ensures children with highly infectious diseases will be treated in the safest environment possible. The unit’s design and technology allow for the treatment of the sickest patients while also protecting Cook Children’s staff and the community from the spread of illness.

While the need for the unit first appeared on Cook Children’s radar several years ago when Ebola made its way to U.S. shores, the COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on its importance once again.

“COVID-19 overwhelmed us and we had a hospital full of kids with COVID during the Omicron surge,” said Marc Mazade, M.D., medical director of infection control and prevention at Cook Children’s. “But we only saw a modest number of kids with COVID-19 who really needed care in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), and most of them graduated out of the PICU pretty quickly in comparison to the much sicker adolescents with severe lung manifestations that we saw with the first two waves of COVID. We have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes and this new unit will help us to do that.”

The overall expansion for the preparedness of current and future pandemics includes the new six-bed infectious diseases CCU and a 24-hour solutions center with dedicated incident command space. In addition, a new 32-bed medical-surgical unit was added to expand Cook Children’s ability to meet the hospitalization needs of the growing communities it serves.

“I work for a system that pursues whatever is needed to improve a child’s health or save a child’s life,” said Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of infectious diseases at Cook Children’s. “This new infectious diseases CCU is that next great opportunity and we are all thrilled to be a part of it.”

The pandemic showed us all how important it is to feel close to your family members, even if you can't be in the same room. In September 2020, a Cook Children's dad went viral for dancing in the parking lot during his son's cancer treatments. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions at the time, only one parent or caregiver could attend appointments with patients. 

These new infectious disease critical care units will make seeing family much easier with Virtual Connect – think FaceTime but for hospital rooms. Doctors and clinicians will also be able to visit with patients through Virtual Connect.

This will allow all “dancing dads” to connect with their child if they can't physically be at the Cook Children's Medical Center.

Family-Centered Safety

Since the start of the pandemic, much has been learned about how to maintain safety for staff and guests and expertly care for infectious disease patients now and in the future.

These best practices and protocols are standard design in the infectious diseases units, which feature specialized air ventilation systems, dedicated areas to put on and take off personal protective equipment (PPE), and technology that allows clinicians to closely monitor a patient without having to be directly at the bedside and other heightened protection measures to contain disease spread.

“These units will be used in an effort to place potentially contagious patients in one area,” Dr. Whitworth said. “The goal is to have everybody in one unit with every employee in that specific unit dedicated to being experts in proper PPE donning and doffing, patient and visitor flow and all of the aspects of interrupting the spread of an infectious disease.”

Maintaining a family-centered and supported environment also influenced the design of the new infectious diseases CCU. The decision to limit visitors to Cook Children’s Medical Center during the pandemic was a difficult one for everyone. While Cook Children’s patients have always been allowed at least one family member at their bedside during the outbreak, the spread of the virus demanded that administrators take steps to protect employees and vulnerable patients by restricting the visitation of others within the family unit.

“Segregating families is not who we are as an organization,” said Stan Davis, chief operating officer at Cook Children’s Medical Center. “We promote that when a child is sick and in our hospital, they need family at their bedside to help with treatment and healing. This unit allows our staff to feel comfortable that they’re in the right environment and have the right precautions to be comfortable treating patients, and it allows our community to understand that in addition to having the best nurses, therapists and support folks in the world, we have the right environment to keep families together.”

Each of the new infectious diseases CCU rooms will have a private bathroom, an accommodation not available in the previous critical care space used for contagious patients. This allows parents to stay in the room with their child as long as they would like and reduces the in and out traffic of a parent who may have the same illness as the child due to exposure. Dedicated entrances and exits to these units for staff and visitors will help protect the general hospital environment.

“It’s our responsibility to re-too in order to deal with situations and illnesses such as the re-emergence of SARS which resulted in lots of health care worker deaths in Canada, for COVID-19 variants already circulating, for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), for avian flu, for new and old world hemorrhagic fever viruses, or for bioterrorism-related infections like anthrax,” Dr. Mazade said. “We’re excited to have the facility to do that better than ever.”

To open up space for the infectious diseases CCU, the Cook Children’s simulation lab was relocated. The simulation lab is an educational space where staff practice using new technologies, innovations and research. Last year, Cook Children’s was the first freestanding children’s hospital in the world to receive full accreditation through the Society for Simulation in Healthcare. The relocated lab allows for the future expansion and growth of this program.

System-Wide Solutions

The design of the new 24-hour solutions center was inspired by lessons learned about system-wide coordination and cooperation throughout the pandemic. Members of all 14 of Cook Children’s Health Care System’s entities worked together in the medical center’s incident command center to coordinate a consistent response to COVID-19 across the entire organization. This consolidation and cooperation allowed Cook Children’s to be nimble, flexible and quick to the ever-changing environment.

The new solutions center will operate year-round under the same premise of consolidation, coordination and consistency. It will be a one-stop shop for staff and guests of any one of Cook Children’s entities to report or request assistance with a facility or operations issue.

“The solutions center will be a single touch point for staff, patients and families, in terms of who they contact for assistance with an operations issue at one of our facilities,” Davis said. “The consolidation that will occur is that there will be a joint information system—a communication hub, if you will—that everyone in the system uses, and the issue will be triaged and assigned from there. It’s similar to what you see with a technology help desk.”

Inside the solutions center is a dedicated incident command center equipped with meeting space that accommodates proper social distancing protocols and communication technology that supports real-time global health updates for rapid, informed decision-making. This is a much-needed upgrade from the classroom that doubled as an incident command center during the height of the pandemic.

“We’ve learned with COVID-19 that hospitals can become overwhelmed rapidly,” Dr. Mazade said. “Planning for staff shortages, getting supplies, developing protocols, and getting our teams the most up-to-date information ASAP while combating misinformation is vital to everyone in the organization, to our community partners, and to our community. We need an up-to-date, world-class incident command station built for that.”

Cook Children’s Health Foundation’s Protecting your Tomorrows campaign helped make the expansion and improvements possible. Thanks to the generosity of donors, Cook Children’s is more equipped than ever before to care for children during a pandemic or outbreak of any infectious disease. For more ways to support our patients, staff and families, visit If you’d like to join the Protecting Your Tomorrows fundraising effort, contact Cook Children’s Health Foundation at 682-885-4105.

B-roll: Infectious Disease Unit
Infectious Disease Unit Broll

About Cook Children's

Cook Children’s Health Care System embraces an inspiring Promise – to improve the health of every child through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re proud of our long and rich tradition of serving our community. Our not-for-profit organization is comprised of nine companies, including our Medical Center, Physician Network, Home Health company, Northeast Hospital, Pediatric Surgery Center, Health Plan, Health Services Inc., Child Study Center and Health Foundation. With more than 60 primary, specialty and urgent care locations throughout Texas, families can access our top-ranked specialty programs and network of services to meet the unique needs of their child. For 100 years, we’ve worked to improve the health of children from across our primary service area of Denton, Hood, Johnson, Parker, Tarrant and Wise counties. We combine the art of caring with leading technology and extraordinary collaboration to provide exceptional care for every child. This has earned Cook Children’s a strong, far-reaching reputation with patients traveling from around the country and the globe to receive life-saving pediatric care. For more information, visit