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Oregon's psychiatric facility takes new steps to protect patients and staff, and implements virtual visitation for friends and family.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Oregon State Hospital in Salem is curtailing admissions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The facility will only accept Guilty Except for Insanity patients who have had their conditional release revoked, and aid & assist patients who are at high risk of self-harm or suicide. As concerns over the spread of COVID-19 continue to mount, the Oregon State Hospital is only accepting patients who are either under supervision of the Psychiatric Security Review Board and who had their conditional release revoked, or criminal defendants deemed unfit to stand trial and found by a judge to be at serious risk of self-harm or suicide.

That means all civil admissions have been halted, and criminal defendants deemed unfit who aren't seen as an immediate risk to themselves will either have to be released or connected to sparse community treatment.

According to Rebeka Gipson-King, a hospital spokeswoman, three patients have been screened and tested negative for novel coronavirus, but the facility has had to turn away staff member who exhibited symptoms of the virus. As of Tuesday, March 31, the State Hospital housed 227 patients under a Guilty Except for Insanity order, and 278 aid and assist patients.

Aside from clamping down on admissions, the State Hospital also has implemented a number of measures to stem the spread of the disease, such as suspension of all visitation by family and friends of patients. The hospital plans to set up new virtual visitation via Skype by Thursday, April 2, to allow patients two 15-minute windows to chat with family and friends each day.

All non-essential contract workers, interns and volunteers are being told to stay away for the time being, and staff members are being actively screened for symptoms of the novel coronavirus before the return to work each day. The hospital also has increased frequency of cleaning high-touch areas and installed handwash stations in all lobbies.

According to Gipson-King, the hospital isn't at a point where the outbreak is affecting their staffing levels at either the Salem or Junction City sites, but they're keeping a close eye on the situation.

"People here can't telecommute," Gipson-King said, "so it's important to have a robust continuity of operation, and to make sure that we're able to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 among patients and staff."

All previously scheduled outings for patients have been canceled, and group treatment meetings that typically span from five to 20 people are being curtailed to smaller sizes and are being staggered throughout the day to comply with social distancing measures ordered by Gov. Kate Brown.

Visits to placement in residential treatment facilities for patients phasing out of hospital-level care are continuing still.

The hospital also has identified approximately 70 patients who either are within the age range to be considered vulnerable to the disease or who have a vulnerable immune system. Those 70-some patients are being kept in a separate unit away from the rest of the population. Staff working on those units — everyone from nurses and behavioral health professionals to nutritional staff and janitorial services — are only working those units to minimize potential spread.

Hospital staff also have cleared out a unit in both Salem and Junction City to house any patients under investigation or exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

As of this week, the hospital is working to convert a unit at each campus to house newly admitted patients for 14 days to ensure they don't exhibit symptoms before being transferred to their regular unit. Staff also are undergoing training to properly use personal protective equipment.

According to Gipson-King, the State Hospital currently has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) — gowns, gloves, masks and sanitizers — for the time being, but the facility has created a workgroup to monitor their stocks and to make requests as needed.

"It's something we talk about every day," she said.


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