Texas hospital publishes strategy for providing psychiatric care during pandemic


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.”