Southcoast Behavioral worker alleges unsafe conditions as patients test positive

Apr 29, 2020

Employees and patients at psychiatric hospital Southcoast Behavioral Health have tested positive for Covid-19 — but the number of cases has not been disclosed.

Hospital CEO Felicia Risick confirmed the positive cases on April 28 in a written response to an inquiry from Dartmouth Week, although she declined to state how many cases there are at the facility.

“The [Covid-positive] employees are currently self-isolating at home,” Risick noted, adding that patients with symptoms or positive test results have been moved to a special coronavirus unit.

One healthcare worker at the hospital, who had reached out to Dartmouth Week, said that the number of cases changes daily and that “a lot of adolescents” are testing positive.

Asking to remain anonymous, the worker said “We are told to come to work unless symptomatic.” Even so, the worker added, staffing levels are “unsafe” in a hospital with patients that are sometimes “highly psychotic.” 

“We have very little help and it is often dangerous,” the employee said. “And we have no security to rely on.”

As always, the safety, health and well-being of our patients and employees are our top priorities,” stated Risick.

Although she did not comment on the current level of staff working at the facility, Risick noted that staff is equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment.

“We also have additional medical clinicians to support our patients who develop symptoms,” she stated. “It is also Southcoast Behavioral Health practice not to speculate on rumors and hypothetical situations.”

Southcoast Behavioral Health is a 144-bed psychiatric hospital located on Faunce Corner Road. It is run in a partnership between the not-for-profit Southcoast Health and specialty behavioral care provider Acadia Healthcare, which manages the facility’s day-to-day operations.

The healthcare worker speaking to Dartmouth Week is not the first person to voice complaints about the facility, which as of last year had the second-highest number of official complaints in the state.

According to Risick, other policies to protect patients and staff include temperature checks before each staff member begins their shift and every 12 hours for patients. New patients also go through a virus screening before admission.

Visitation has been suspended, with patients given additional phone time, and social distancing is encouraged within the facility, Risick noted. She added that any employee who develops symptoms or feels sick is sent home and asked to stay there.

“Employees are now wearing masks at all times,” stated Risick. “We will continue to assess our infection control and prevention procedures, to ensure that they are effective and consistent with the best practices, as established by local health officials as well as the CDC and WHO.”