Friday, April 17, 2020

Coronavirus in a psychiatric hospital: 'It's the worst of all worlds'

Social distancing in a psychiatric facility is easier said than done. So far 34 people at Western State Hospital have tested positive for coronavirus.

The first patient at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Washington, tested positive for COVID-19 on March 16Ted S. Warren / AP file

By Kit Ramgopal

It's not unusual to hear patients screaming and crying at Western State Hospital, workers say. But lately, they say it's been worse than normal at the massive psychiatric facility just south of Tacoma, Washington.
Since COVID-19 hit the hospital a month ago, its Victorian-era buildings have felt "eerie" and "strange," according to workers.
The art room is empty, group therapy is canceled and patients eat alone in the cafeteria. A skeleton staff cares for more than 700 patients battling illnesses that range from schizophrenia to suicidal depression. Older patients are not so much quarantined as stranded, unwilling or unable to get up from their hard plastic beds without help, workers say. Other, younger patients are free to roam the halls with no masks.
Thirty-four patients and staffers have tested positive at Western State since the outbreak began, and one patient has died. The hospital says conditions have improved, with few new cases in recent days and no new sick patients in two weeks. But some workers — who actually outnumber patients 4 to 1, and who account for most of the coronavirus cases — tell NBC News they fear the real scale of the infection is unknown.
"This is a massive problem that is going to have continuing ramifications both psychologically and physically," said Lauren Smith, a forensic psychologist at Western State. "We have people who are sick, and we have people who are absolutely scared."

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