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Outpatient site closed to public, but employees still working at hospital pharmacy despite COVID-19 cases

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro. A pharmacy at the hospital was closed to the public Monday, April 6, after an outbreak of COVID-19 among pharmacy employees.A Kaiser Permanente hospital pharmacy is temporarily shut down to the public due to a COVID-19 outbreak, but employees are still being asked to work at the contaminated location.

Kaiser confirmed Monday that its Westside Medical Center outpatient pharmacy in Hillsboro was closed to the public, after seven employees who worked together tested positive for COVID-19. The pharmacy is still open for internal operations related to the hospital, and staffers are still working there.

Patients were instead instructed to use a Kaiser pharmacy in Hillsboro, or Beaverton, or opt to receive their prescriptions via mail order delivery.

Prior to the closure, some employees complained of symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but did not receive tests, according to the relative of a pharmacy employee, who spoke on background. When a handful of staffers tested positive, the pharmacy was briefly closed for cleaning, then reopened. It was again closed to the public when seven employees tested positive, but remains operational to serve the hospital.

In an internal joint management message to employees, the healthcare company said the safety of patients and staff is "a top priority."

"Following the identification on an initial staff member, pharmacy staff were closely monitored, including daily temperature checks, and employees with symptoms were asked to self-isolate at home," the message from Kaiser stated. "The outpatient pharmacy at Westside Medical Center was closed today, and several additional steps have been taken to enhance the safety of patients and clinicians."

The pharmacy outbreak was initially reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive. A source told the newspaper that employees were "dropping like flies."

In the internal memo, employees were advised to wear masks to work and not to come in if they felt sick. Within its pharmacies, the company implemented a host of increased safety measures, including: curbside pickup of prescriptions, the addition of Plexiglas barriers, the reduction of pharmacy windows and increased spacing between employees, as well as "frequent and enhanced cleaning." Some employees were set up to work remotely, while others were given work stations away from the pharmacy.

The company also promised site visits to pharmacies from infection control and employee health experts, to provide recommendations on workflow changes to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

A company representative said part of the reason for closing the pharmacy, which is inside a Kaiser hospital, was to reduce the number of people coming in and out of the site.

"The closing of the pharmacy located inside the hospital is also intended to reduce traffic within the hospital. Everyone entering the building is being scanned for symptoms, and the number of public entrances have been reduced. This is part of preparedness planning for the hospital," said Michael Foley, communications director for Kaiser.

Courtney Vaughn
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