A recent outbreak of COVID-19 forced Sempervirens, the only inpatient psychiatric hospital within a 300-mile radius of Humboldt County, to temporarily close its doors to new patients struggling with mental illness.
One patient tested positive for the virus during routine surveillance tests in late May, according to the county Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). An additional five patients and three staff members tested positive shortly after.
“What [Sempervirens] is not licensed to hold someone with a communicable disease in the unit, the Behavioral Health administration worked closely with Public Health and local hospitals and transferred the six COVID-positive patients to local hospitals,” the spokeswoman wrote. DHHS, Christine Messinger, in an email to the advanced this morning. “…During the time that COVID-positive patients were in local hospitals, behavioral health staff spent time helping them on-site.”
Patients who tested negative were able to stay at the facility and continue treatment, but admission of new patients was suspended while COVID-positive patients finished their quarantine. Admissions resumed this morning after about two weeks with no new cases.
During the quarantine period, the vast majority of people experiencing mental health issues were taken to the Providence St. Joseph Hospital emergency department for treatment, which had a “significant impact” on hospital staff and resources. .
“[Sempervirens] COVID patients were referred to the hospital and admitted because they had nowhere to go,” Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, executive director of Providence in Humboldt County, told the advanced. “[Sempervirens] COVID patients often stayed until they were no longer contagious, using beds that other patients would have used.”
Because Sempervirens was closed to admissions, patients who needed emergency psychiatric care “had to stay in the hospital unless they could be moved out of the county,” Luskin-Hawk added.
DHHS confirmed that one of the six COVID-positive patients was transferred out of the county for mental health treatment. One patient remains in hospital “due to a medical condition”, two patients were stabilized and released to their families during the quarantine period, and another two returned to Sempervirens.
DHHS Deputy Director for Behavioral Health Paul Bugnacki said the recent outbreak “demonstrated what our community would be facing if we didn’t have Sempervirens open for treating people who have an acute psychiatric emergency.”
“Our staff have worked diligently throughout the pandemic to keep Sempervirens up and running and COVID-free for our patients. This remains a priority for us,” Bugnacki told the advanced. “…Sempervirens is a critical element of our continuum of care for behavioral health services in our community and we want to preserve that.”