Texas hospital publishes strategy for providing psychiatric care during pandemic

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) recently published its strategy in Psychiatry Research for providing psychiatric care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strategy was implemented for the UTHealth Harris County Psychiatric Center (UTHealth HCPC), the largest inpatient psychiatric care provider in Greater Houston. The 274-bed facility cares for approximately 9,000 patients annually.

Hospital officials realized in March that a patient could arrive infected with COVID-19. To minimize the risk, patients were moved into other units, and new patients were not admitted. Officials created an infection control initiative, and volunteers staffed a COVID-19 unit around the clock.

Patients with severe mental illness often have difficulty understanding why they must wear a mask and use proper hand hygiene. A total of 40 percent refused testing.

The care team screened for symptoms and isolated any suspected cases. More than 100 patients have been isolated in the COVID-19 unit since April, with 52 percent testing positive.

“When COVID-19 began, we were left with the question of how to manage a highly infectious virus in a freestanding psychiatric hospital,” Dr. Lokesh Shahani, leader of the infection control initiative and first author of the paper, said. “There was no existing published guideline on how to do this.”

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