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Arizona battling COVID-19 outbreak in own state hospital

Pima County reports first coronavirus-related death
Posted at 2:56 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-20 00:23:13-04

Arizona health officials are struggling to contain a significant coronavirus outbreak inside their own state hospital as cases have sharply risen in recent weeks, according to multiple sources and information obtained by ABC15.

The Arizona State Hospital had 61 confirmed COVID-19 cases between residents and staff as of June 18.

The number of cases has jumped from just three positives on May 30.

The outbreak places the state hospital, which is a psychiatric facility that houses roughly 300 residents, among the worst locations for the total number of publicly-known COVID cases in a congregate setting.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has refused to release the number of cases inside long-term care facilities and other congregate settings. Media outlets unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit to release the information.

However, the federal government has independently released data for nursing homes.

In response to a request for comment, the health department did not confirm a number of cases inside the state hospital.

A spokesperson sent a statement saying the hospital has “proactively implemented prevention measures since the beginning.”

Patient attorneys likened the living situation inside the hospital to that of nursing homes, which have suffered higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

“They’re like nursing home patients. So their exposure to disease is really through people coming in and out of the institution,” said Holly Gieszl, an attorney who represents multiple patients. “If staff is going around the various units, then they can carry disease among the units … and it increases the community spread.”

Insiders tell ABC15 that staff have been routinely shifted around the hospital’s units. They also believe employees have not been given strong enough personal protective equipment.

Some sources indicated that the temperature screen upon entrance isn’t taken seriously enough and some staff aren’t always wearing masks as required.

Despite the spike in cases, the state has not mandated testing for all staff and residents.

Read the full statement from the Department of Health Services below:

We know COVID-19 is still widespread in our community. Like all healthcare facilities, we anticipate continued risk for future cases. As you are aware, ASH and ACPTC staff have proactively implemented COVID-19 prevention measures since the beginning of the response, including:

  • ASH and ACPTC have provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to all staff and require each to wear a mask while on the grounds.
  • Every individual who enters the campus is screened for symptoms and their temperature is checked. Staff who exhibit any symptoms or have a fever are sent home until they have been cleared by their healthcare professional.
  • All newly admitted patients are routinely tested with a diagnostic test for COVID-19 and infection control guidelines are followed.
  • All patients’ and residents’ temperatures are taken daily.
  • Every patient at ASH or resident at ACPTC has access to COVID-19 testing if they become symptomatic or may have been exposed.
  • The Department continues to offer COVID-19 testing to staff.
  • ASH leadership communicates COVID-19 related information and status updates to all staff on a daily basis.
  • Any exposures that are known to the leadership are shared with impacted staff the same day leadership is notified.

The team at ASH and ACPTC continues to work with our ADHS epidemiologists and infection control experts to implement prevention and mitigation measures within our healthcare facilities.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@abc15.com.