The Mississippi Department of Mental Health confirmed Friday that 56 patients and an unknown number of staff at four of its 12 facilities have confirmed COVID-19 infections—a much higher number than reported previously, according to figures from the agency.
East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian is the hardest hit, with 31 patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 36 cases among staff, according to reporting by the Meridian Star. The hospital has 372 psychiatric beds, 35 chemical dependency beds, 226 nursing home beds.
According to Bill Blair, director of support services at Boswell Regional Center in Magee, that facility has no cases among patients and six cases among staff at the on-campus facility. Staff who test positive for COVID-19 are immediately sent home and can only return when they test negative for the virus, Blair said.
The other 25 cases are split between North Mississippi Regional Center in Oxford and Ellisville State School in Ellisville, according to Adam Moore, communications director at the Department of Mental Health.
North Mississippi Regional Center provides 24-hour care to 485 individuals living in 12 campus cottages and 20 ICF/MR 10-bed community homes throughout north Mississippi. Ellisville State School serves approximately 240 people on the main campus and additional persons in the community.
When asked to elaborate on how many cases were at each facility, Moore said the agency is following the state Department of Health’s lead. “The Mississippi State Department of Health currently is not identifying long-term care facilities or confirmed numbers at these facilities in light of privacy considerations and stigmatization of the facilities,” Moore said.
When asked to confirm these figures, Health Department Communications Director Liz Sharlot said they could not release information on facilities and cases of COVID-19. “If the facilities wish to announce information, that is their decision,” Sharlot said.
Department of Mental Health’s various behavioral health programs include Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield in Rankin County and its satellite program, Specialized Treatment Facility in Gulfport.
East Mississippi State Hospital in Meridian has several satellite programs: North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis and Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton.
Department of Mental Health also operates five regional programs for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and a specialized program for adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These programs are at Boswell Regional Center in Magee and its satellite program, Mississippi Adolescent Center in Brookhaven, Ellisville State School in Ellisville, Hudspeth Regional Center in Rankin County, North Mississippi Regional Center in Oxford and South Mississippi Regional Center in Long Beach. These programs provide residential services and licensed homes for community living.
The Department of Mental Health stated that precautions were being taken to keep the spread down in the state mental health facilities.
“DMH is following all Mississippi State Department of Health guidelines regarding PPE and isolation,” Moore said, referring to the acronym Personal Protective Equipment. “DMH-operated programs are conducting screenings and temperature checks before employees enter campus. Families of individuals served have been notified in cases when someone is confirmed to have the virus. Individuals served are regularly screened for symptoms and DMH programs have established isolation areas if a client tests positive.”
When asked to elaborate about the conditions quarantined patients are kept in, Moore said, “At EMSH, there are classrooms in the athletic complex building that are utilized as isolation spaces. At other DMH programs, there are specific wards, units, rooms, or cottages on the campuses that were prepared in advance of positive test results as areas that would be used solely for individuals who tested positive.”
Other precautions taken to slow the virus’ spread include changes to scheduling staff rotations and appropriate PPE, said Moore. “Once staff is assigned to the unit, they are given full Personal Protective Equipment to use while providing care. If a building/group home has positive COVID-19 cases and/or patients/residents/clients who are symptomatic, the building/group home is placed on quarantine, which means there is limited access to the building/home for only essential staff. Staff do not rotate on other buildings/homes,” Moore said.
This story was produced by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that seeks to inform, educate and empower Mississippians in their communities through the use of investigative journalism.