NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — An employee at a local psychiatric hospital is raising concerns about COVID-19 and how it’s being handled at the facility. Fearing for his job, but also concerned for his health and safety, an employee at Norristown State Hospital contacted CBS3, speaking up about what he says are troubling instances of exposure inside the Montgomery County-based facility.
“There has been no guidance, there’s no information whatsoever,” the employee said.
CBS3 is shielding his identity because he says people have been threatened with termination if they talk to reporters.
“No PPE, no training on how to deal with this,” the worker said. “People working there were exposed instead of being quarantined.”
The worker claims hospital managers have waved off CDC and health department advisories and regulations about how best to contain the virus.
It’s alleged cleaning supplies are non-existent and he says there’s no personal protective equipment.
He also argues staff came into contact with a COVID-19 patient but weren’t told for days, potentially exposing more workers.
The facility falls under the control of the state’s Human Services Department.
“We have several confirmed cases of staff that have been exposed and have COVID-19,” he said. “How many other people have been exposed? We don’t know due to the hospital putting people’s lives in danger.”
The worker also says staff have been forced to use their own time if they have to quarantine out of fear of exposure.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services sent CBS3 the following statement Wednesday.
“The Department of Human Services is following the guidance of state and federal public-health professionals to ensure that employees and residents of state-operated facilities are protected from the potential spread of COVID-19 while maintaining essential functions, including services to people in care at Norristown State Hospital.
We prioritize the health and safety of all of our employees and have counseled employees at our state-run psychiatric hospitals on what is considered medically appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and when it should be worn following guidance issued by the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for hospital settings. We continue to communicate with and update staff on cases and operational changes necessary to mitigate spread as this situation evolves.
Various mitigation steps have been taken since positive cases were identified among Norristown State Hospital staff and patients. Signs are posted around Norristown State Hospital advising staff on COVID-19 mitigation and prevention procedures, including proper handwashing practices, guidance on coughing safely, and social distancing. Norristown State Hospital has an infection control nurse on staff that sends daily reminders regarding precautions. Staff has been updated on PPE use regularly and most recently on Tuesday, March 31, when all staff in the forensic unit began using surgical masks. Gloves and surgical masks are being distributed in all forensic care units, and staff caring for patients who have tested positive have gowns and eye protection in addition to the surgical masks and gloves. Need for additional PPE is being constantly monitored and evaluated. As PPE is issued, staff are counseled on proper use and disposal.
Hospital facilities are cleaned and sanitized regularly, and extra cleaning is being done to avoid spread of COVID-19 across Norristown State Hospital’s patient units.
Hospital staff have identified areas of potential COVID-19 exposures and taken steps to isolate those areas and patients from other areas and patients in the hospital. Patients who test positive are not moved back to regular units until symptom-free as per CDC/DOH guidance. All staff serving patients in these potential exposure areas have been issued PPE with the guidance of public-health professionals.
Masks and gloves have also been provided to staff in non-exposure units. All staff who had been in contact with those who tested positive have been notified as well as all any staff working on a unit that is utilizing PPE. The department will continue to evaluate the needs of staff and patients at Norristown State Hospital and follow the guidance of public-health professionals to keep people safe from COVID-19. Due to confidentiality requirements, we are not able to specific discuss patient or staff health further.”