Coronavirus outbreak overwhelms staff at state-run psychiatric facility

National News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Staff working at a state-run mental health facility in Springfield claim an outbreak of coronavirus has started to rapidly spread throughout the facility weeks after management neglected to adopt the union’s workplace safety proposals.

According to the Department of Human Services website, 11 of 253 state workers at the McFarland Mental Health Center have already tested positive. At least 10 of the 122 psychiatric patients are also confirmed to have coronavirus, according to test result numbers that were released on October 30th. The patients, many of whom were declared unfit to stand trial due to mental health diagnoses, live in six different buildings on the campus.

Multiple sources who work in the facility said they expect the number of positive infections to continue rising in the next few days because several other people who live or work there are already showing symptoms commonly associated with Covid-19, such as a fever higher than 100 degrees. Many of them have already taken a test and are awaiting their results.

One employee, who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the facility administration, said many of the patients who were exposed to lab-confirmed cases continue to mingle with others.

“There’s no plan,” the staffer said. “They were supposed to isolate to their room but some of them have the IQ of a nine-year-old. They’re coming out in the hallway with their masks off and screaming and yelling.”

Medical staff on the premises say the state Department of Human Services paid to construct a negative airflow unit where sick patients could isolate from the rest of the residents, but they claim management has not properly utilized the space.

“It’s empty. It’s completely empty and not being utilized,” one employee said.

Calls to management were not returned over the weekend, but the labor union representing the state workers expressed concerns about the health and safety of the workers during the outbreak.

“AFSCME members working at McFarland Mental Health Center are very concerned about their own health and that of the patients they care for every day,” AFSCME Council 31 Regional Director Dave Beck said in a statement. “With that in mind, our local union leadership has been meeting with the McFarland administration for months in an attempt to ensure there are measures in place to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19 within the facility.

“When a significant number of positive cases began to appear a few weeks ago, AFSCME convened a series of meetings to press facility management to institute more stringent protocols to limit the spread of the virus. We believe the response has been much too slow in coming. Those discussions continue.

“We hope that management will act quickly to implement the safeguards we have discussed and will continue to work with AFSCME to ensure the safety of our members and the patients they serve.”

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