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A recent COVID-19 outbreak forced Sempervirens, the only in-patient psychiatric hospital within a 300-mile radius of Humboldt County, to temporarily close its doors to new patients struggling with mental illness. 

A patient tested positive for the virus during routine surveillance testing at the end of May, according to the county Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Five additional patients and three staff members tested positive shortly thereafter.

“As [Sempervirens] is not licensed to hold someone with a contagious disease on the unit, Behavioral Health administration worked closely with Public Health and local hospitals and moved the six COVID-positive patients to local hospitals,” DHHS spokesperson Christine Messinger wrote in an email to the Outpost this morning. “…During the time the COVID-positive patients were at local hospitals, Behavioral Health staff spent time assisting them on-site.”

The patients who tested negative were able to stay at the facility and continue treatment, but the admission of new patients was put on hold while COVID-positive patients finished their quarantine. Admissions resumed this morning after approximately two weeks of no new cases.

During the quarantine period, the vast majority of individuals experiencing mental health issues were taken to the emergency department at Providence St. Joseph Hospital for treatment which led to a “significant impact” on hospital staff and resources.

“[Sempervirens] patients with COVID were referred to the hospital and admitted because they had nowhere else to go,” Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk, Chief Executive for Providence in Humboldt County, told the Outpost. “[Sempervirens] patients with COVID often stayed until they were no longer contagious, using beds that would have been used by other patients.”

Because Sempervirens was closed to admissions, patients in need of emergency psychiatric care “had to stay at the hospital unless they were able to be transferred out of the county,” Luskin-Hawk added. 

DHHS confirmed that one of the six COVID-positive patients was transferred out of the county for mental health treatment. One patient remains at the hospital “due to a medical condition,” two patients were stabilized and released to their families during the quarantine period and two others have returned to Sempervirens.

DHHS Behavioral Health Deputy Director Paul Bugnacki said the recent outbreak “demonstrated what our community would be facing if we did not have Sempervirens open for treatment for individuals who are having an acute psychiatric emergency.”

“Our staff have worked diligently throughout the pandemic to keep Sempervirens operational and COVID free for our patients. This continues to be a priority for us,” Bugnacki told the Outpost. “…Sempervirens is a critical element of our continuum of care for behavioral health services in our community and we want to preserve that.”