Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell on Thursday issued a statement acknowledging the deaths of four residents at Florida State Hospital (FSH) in Chattahoochee due to COVID-19.
“Since March, the department has implemented critical mitigation strategies, such as suspending visitation and admissions, increased supplies of personal protective equipment, symptom screening of staff and residents, enhanced disinfecting and sanitation practices, mandatory testing, and isolation and quarantine protocols to keep this virus out of our facilities, and perhaps, most importantly, away from our already vulnerable residents,” Poppell said.
“I want to reassure the family, friends, and loved ones of the residents and staff at all Florida mental health treatment facilities that I do not take these deaths lightly. I have deployed DCF executive leadership to FSH to conduct an immediate assessment of onsite operations,” he continued. “ I have also requested to have the Department of Health (DOH) Incident Management Team visit the facility to provide clinical support and recommendations to guard against the further transmission of the virus among staff and residents. These specialists are scheduled to arrive tomorrow,” he said in the Thursday release. “It is important to note that the DOH and Agency for Healthcare Administration has been on-site and advising the department since the early stages of this pandemic. Additionally, I have ordered mandatory testing for both staff and residents at FSH this week which started on Monday, July 26. Any staff testing positive will require a negative test result before returning to work and must quarantine in accordance with DOH guidelines in the meantime. Residents who are positive will be relocated to quarantine units until a negative test result is received. The department will continue consult with our partners to protect those in our care and keep our workforce safe.”
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, DCF has implemented CDC- and DOH-aligned mitigation strategies at FSH:
Symptom Screenings and Facility-Wide Testing
Prior to beginning a shift at FSH, all staff (including doctors/nurses, support staff, and maintenance) are required to undergo a symptom screening. This includes a temperature check (which is also conducted at the end of a shift) and a hand-written authorization that they have not developed symptoms of an illness and/or they have not been exposed to COVID-19 since their last shift. (See authorization form attached.) They have also been instructed to immediately notify their supervisors of any known or suspected virus exposure within the facility.
Additionally, mandatory testing for FSH staff and residents took place on July 27, and it will occur again today. On May 3, the National Guard was onsite to perform voluntary testing for staff; 167 were tested, but there were no positive cases at that time. Staff have also been instructed to contact their primary care physicians for additional testing as needed.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is distributed twice a week for staff and residents at FSH. They have been instructed to immediately request a replacement if their PPE is even slightly damaged.
There is a two-week supply of PPE on-site at all times. Current inventory includes: 259,000 gloves, 331,500 surgical masks, and 47,282 N95 and KN95 masks.
On April 1, new admissions to FSH and our other state-operated mental health facilities were suspended, allowing the facilities to identify and establish isolation and quarantine units.
Admissions resumed in mid-June 15, with testing and 14-day isolation required for all new residents; however, the agency has the authority to reinstate the suspension at any or all facilities if it is deemed appropriate through regular monitoring. To date, contact tracing does not indicate that any current COVID-19-positive residents at FSH contracted the virus from new residents who were admitted after the suspension was lifted.
Visitation was also suspended at all state-operated mental health treatment facilities in March, ensuring staff and residents are not unnecessarily exposed to the virus. This policy will remain in place until further notice.
Isolation and Quarantine Protocols
Through consultation with DOH and AHCA, we identified the need for isolation and quarantine units that are completely separated from high-traffic areas at each state-operated mental health facility. At FSH, there are currently 10 isolation beds, 16 quarantine beds for residents in forensic treatment, and 16 quarantine beds for those in civil treatment.
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