As COVID-19 unit nears capacity, Oregon State Hospital suspends admissions again

From the Oregonian, January 8, 2021

As a growing coronavirus outbreak at the Oregon State Hospital fills up the facility’s lone COVID-19 unit, administrators this week moved to stop admitting new patients so they can use the available space for more quarantine beds.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman agreed to allow the psychiatric hospital to extend its freeze on admitting new patients until Jan. 15, as the state hospital makes room for a quickly-increasing number of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a court document filed Monday on behalf of state hospital administrators, there are currently 18 patients infected with coronavirus — all housed in a unit with 19 beds. Twenty-six more patients living in two different areas are awaiting test results to determine whether they were also infected.

The filing said the hospital will soon need to devote a second unit to patients who have tested positive for the virus. The only unit available to convert to a COVID-19 unit was previously supposed to serve new patients.

Twenty-nine patients have tested positive for the virus since the first outbreak at the hospital in October, according to state hospital spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King. Eleven have since recovered. Gipson-King said no one associated with the state hospital has died from the virus. One patient was treated at a local emergency department, but was not admitted there and remains in state hospital care.

The psychiatric hospital, with campuses in Salem and Junction City, can serve up 650 patients, many of whom have been civilly committed, found unable to aid and assist in their own criminal defense, or found guilty by reason of insanity.

The terms of a 2002 federal lawsuit require the state hospital to admit a certain number of patients each week so people are not languishing in jail. During the pandemic, hospital administrators have repeatedly requested and received permission to further pause admissions. The first outbreak at the hospital was reported in October.

The latest outbreak was confirmed Dec. 28, when 11 patients living in a unit known as Bird 1 tested positive and were transferred to the COVID-19 unit. All patients and workers in that unit were tested for the virus.

Gipson-King said that outbreak infected five staff members. A total of 15 employees have tested positive since Dec. 28, according to a court document filed Monday by the state’s lawyers.

Disability Rights Oregon, an advocacy group, has criticized the state hospital’s slower admissions process and has pushed for expanding community-based treatment for defendants with mental illness.

Staff members and patients have also criticized hospital administrators’ handling of the pandemic, including what some described as a failure to properly plan for outbreaks. Meanwhile, many staff members are on coronavirus-related leave, which other employees have said has led to outsize responsibility for those who are still working.

The state hospital began administering the COVID-19 vaccine last week, and so far has vaccinated more than 1,400 workers at the Salem campus, Gipson-King said. She said 72 patients at the Junction City campus, out of nearly 100 served there, have also received the vaccine, and Salem patients will have access to the vaccine next week.