Northam signs order to mitigate spread of COVID-19 in state-operated psychiatric hospitals

Northam signs order to mitigate spread of COVID-19 in state-operated psychiatric hospitals
In this April 8, 2020 file photo, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. (Source: AP Photo/Steve Helber/AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia’s state-operated psychiatric hospitals.

Before the pandemic, the state’s psychiatric hospital system averaged 95 percent or more of total bed capacity and many have experienced an increase in admissions, at times exceeding operating bed capacity, through the month of July.

“The need to isolate or quarantine patients with confirmed or suspected diagnoses of COVID-19 has placed increased demands on state-operated psychiatric hospitals and further reduced bed capacity. The Code of Virginia requires these facilities to admit individuals under emergency custody for a mental health crisis who meet the criteria for temporary detention when no other inpatient bed can be identified,” a release said.

Executive Order Seventy says that when state hospitals reach 100 percent bed capacity, they will not serve as the temporary detention for people not under emergency custody. The order encourages law enforcement to make sure a bed is available before taking a patient to a state hospital and requires a COVID-19 screening be done also.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals and the individuals in crisis who rely on their services,” said Northam. “This executive order will help ensure that our Commonwealth can continue to provide high quality behavioral health care and treatment, while protecting the health and safety of patients and staff and mitigating the spread of the virus within these congregate settings.”

As of Aug. 17, there were 79 positive cases of COVID-19 in state hospitals, which includes 50 patients and 29 staff members.

“Our 12 state hospitals and centers have worked extremely hard throughout this pandemic to fight COVID-19 and protect staff and patients,” said Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Alison Land. “The Governor’s order helps prioritize patients in crisis so that state hospitals do not receive patients with complicated medical conditions, such as COVID-19, that they are not equipped to take. We will work with our partners to carry out this order and ensure that the state hospital safety net is preserved.”

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