So far, there are no positive cases of the coronavirus at Eastern State, but that doesn’t mean they’re letting their guard down

As hospitals and care facilities around the country change their operating procedures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19), so is Eastern State Hospital.

Eastern State is an adult mental health hospital that’s part of a system of hospitals regulated by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, these care facilities have taken steps such as limiting visitation and screening employees, said Meghan McGuire, senior adviser for external affairs for the department.

McGuire said while there haven’t been any positive cases of the coronavirus with patients in the 13 facilities across the state, the department is still taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Given the rapid spread of the virus statewide, we do not expect this can possibly stay the same at DBHDS hospitals for much longer,” she wrote in an email.

McGuire said the department is also trying to reduce the number of patients at the hospitals as much as possible, which is done by working with community-based services that can provide a place for those who can be safely discharged.

The department is currently planning methods to prevent possible cases and creating a plan of action should a positive case occur. This means following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as restricting visitation, taking further increased infection control measures and practicing social distancing between staff and patients to minimize risk of exposure.

The department is also preparing for how to isolate any individuals should there be a positive case.

Visitation at Eastern State is now limited to certain situations, such as an approved parent or guardian if a patient is a minor. No more than two visitors will be allowed in the facility at a time and they all must be screened and not exhibit symptoms consistent with the virus.

McGuire said that policy applies to an entire facility but if a patient meets the narrow restrictions for having visitors at all, then there can be no more than two at a time.

“This public health emergency requires flexibility in how we deliver services and patient care,” McGuire wrote in an email. “Each DBHDS facility is working out ways patients can stay in touch with loved ones on an individual basis through methods such as phone, video, or email for example.”

The hospital is recommending that visitors call the facility beforehand so they can be screened for symptoms.

The new visitation policies are an attempt to limit exposure to the patients in all DBHDS facilities across the state as many patients are considered medically fragile or immunocompromised.

In addition, the new procedures help protect the staff, which McGuire said is vital due to the high numbers of patients staff have had to care for.

“The state psychiatric hospitals have all been experiencing very high census numbers for a number of years,” McGuire said. “This impacts staff and patient safety, overtime and other factors which in turn often results in staff call outs [or absences].”

For more information, visit DBHDS online.

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