NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


State hospital struggles to contain COVID-19

Posted at 1:49 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 00:51:50-04

PHOENIX — Coronavirus continues to spread among residents and staff at the Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix, and insiders blame the administration for failing to properly prepare for an outbreak and respond to one.

Inside sources tell ABC15 there are now more than 80 cases of COVID-19 between employees and residents of the state psychiatric facility.

There were just three cases on May 30, according to information obtained by ABC15.

“One unit is completely infested with it,” said one employee who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “And, they’re still moving staff around from unit to unit instead of keeping them in that one unit.”

Another employee highlighted the same issue.

“Infected patients were not isolated from others," the medical staffer said. "Staff who worked in the unit also did not wear masks and were walking around everywhere in the hospital.”

The hospital, which houses roughly 300 vulnerable residents, is run by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

ABC15 asked department director, Dr. Cara Christ, about the spike in cases at a press conference last Thursday.

“So, we have been engaged with the Arizona State Hospital. We are concerned about our patients and residents at the hospital,” Christ said. “Back in March, they proactively implemented temperature checks, symptoms screens, mandatory face mask-wearing, and infection control protocols.”

However, multiple employees said those protocols were not effectively communicated, not followed, and the amount of protective equipment has not been sufficient.

According to several insiders, the temperature checks and symptom screenings have been completed by non-medical employees and are a “joke.”

“100.4 degrees on several different occasions,” said former employee Tracey Voelker, when asked if screeners let her through with an elevated temperature and cleared her to work.

Voelker said she quit on April 2 due to her concerns about the hospital’s preparations for COVID-19.

“[It’s] because of the COVID-19, and them not taking proper measures to keep staff and residents safe,” she said. “I worry about my safety, and I certainly don’t want to get it and spread it to patients.”

Employees told ABC15 that they have been asked to continue working even after exposure to the virus. Another said staff who tested positive have been asked to report to the hospital for work sooner than they are comfortable — after just 10 days, and not the recommended 14.

In response to these concerns, Christ said at the press conference that employees can bring those up and her department will listen.

Still, many employees said they fear retaliation or retribution for raising concerns, especially considering the hospital’s long history of failing to keep residents and staff safe.

In a recent example, an unsupervised resident killed another resident last year. When the state investigated itself, inspectors cited no deficiencies.

“I never felt safe when I went to work,” Voelker said. “No one is safe in that place as far as I’m concerned.”

Some staff have also reported that they are not receiving the 25% increase in hazard pay that was promised at the beginning of the pandemic.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at