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Psychiatric Hospital In Springfield Facing COVID-19 Cases In Close Quarters

Vibra Hospital in Springfield, Mass.
Don Treeger
The Springfield Republican
Vibra Hospital in Springfield, Mass.

A state-affiliated psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, is dealing with several COVID-19 cases.

Thirty people with severe mental illness live at Vibra hospital — all by court order, and overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

As of Wednesday, the state said three patients had tested positive for COVID-19. Staff said several more patients are showing symptoms.

Now the sick patients are on a separate floor, though staff member Ronald Timothy said most patients in the regular unit still share rooms and communal bathrooms.

“People are trying their best to have social distancing or some kind of distancing which could prevent more exposure or even transmission,” he said, “but I personally believe that it's very difficult.”

In a statement, the Department of Mental Health said the facility has been following government safety guidelines – and that all DMH facilities have been restricting visitors, screening staff and quarantining potential COVID cases since March 19.

Timothy said Vibra did increase safety measures, but only after the first test came back positive.

“I believe we responded too late,” he said. “But I also believe we as a nation responded too late.”

A recreational therapist at the hospital, Hollis Graham, said he learned that one employee has tested positive for COVID-19, though DMH said Wednesday there were no positive cases among staff.

Graham also said four other staff members are out because they have symptoms of the virus or believe they were exposed to a sick patient.

"One real concern now is that staffing is beginning to be an issue, as nurses and counselors have had to call out due to becoming symptomatic themselves," Graham said.

Graham said all staff wear N95 masks, but because of the nationwide supply shortage, they wear the same mask for several days.

Timothy said he has no plans to stop working at Vibra. He said the patients, despite their disabilities, are mostly calm.

"I love my job and I like helping people out," he said. "So for the most part, I'm not that worried."

Timothy said, because of the risks, the union negotiated with Vibra to give the entire staff hazard pay — at $50 extra per shift.

Calls to Vibra were not returned.

The psychiatric unit occupies one floor of what used to be a much larger hospital. Vibra is required by a state contract to keep the unit open, even though the company shut down the rest of the hospital several years ago.

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