State officials confirm one positive coronavirus test at state hospital
By Brian Dekle
Photo courtesy DCF
A Florida State Hospital employee has tested positive for coronavirus, the Department of Children and Families – the state entity tasked with overseeing operations at the massive mental healthcare facility – confirmed this past week.
As of press time this past Tuesday afternoon, the COVID-19 diagnosis confirmed earlier in the week remained the Chattahoochee-based hospital’s sole employee-related case, a department spokesperson said, despite claims public made to the contrary by Sam Palmer, the president of the Gadsden County chapter of the NAACP. In an open letter to Governor Ron DeSantis pleading for greater protections for employees and in public remarks made at an NAACP press conference in Chattahoochee last Monday, Palmer asserted that three Florida State Hospital workers have, in fact, tested positive for the potentially lethal virus, the figure based in part on alleged complaints communicated to Palmer from hospital employees reportedly fearful of contracting the virus at work due to lax admission quarantine procedures, among other purported issues.
The three-employee figure is false, say Department of Children and Families officials; the department’s initial report of one positive diagnosis remains valid, and the hospital has implemented unprecedented measures to thwart further spread, including suspending all patient admissions until April 30, a department news release states.
“The Department of Children and Families recently received notification, and is working to confirm, that a staff member at Florida State Hospital tested positive for COVID-19,” the news release states. “DCF immediately initiated safety measures in accordance with the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health.”
Last week, the department placed a temporary hold on hospital admissions through April 30 to allow for campus-wide disinfection and cleaning and staff training on the use of protective gear. Before admissions resume, the hospital will nail down solid 14-day isolation protocols and establish quarantine areas for all incoming patients, according to officials.
Visitation to the sprawling Chattahochee facility was suspended in March and screening protocols have been established to try and identify symptomatic patients and staff.
“The mental health services provided at Florida State Hospital are critical and often lifesaving. It is our priority to ensure the continuation of these services in a manner that is safe for both our patients and our staff,” the department news release issued on the heels of the positive employee diagnosis went on to say last week. “DCF is working closely with DOH to continue implementing measures to mitigate the spread of COVID19 within our facilities. Staff have been directed to immediately notify their supervisor if they have come in to contact with anyone who has tested positive or if they become symptomatic.”
As of press time Tuesday, Department of Children and Families officials had not yet responded to inquiries regarding possible existing COVID-19 infections among patients; when asked a series of questions regarding patient testing and potential patient cases – or the lack thereof – multiple Chattahoochee-based Florida State Hospital employees, including administrative staff and healthcare workers, either declined comment altogether, directing all queries to the Department of Children and Families communications office, or provided unconfirmed information on the condition of anonymity. Several respondents noted they were not authorized to speak to the media or otherwise couldn’t comment on matters involving patients, even non-specific inquiries on the general population.
The News-Herald & Sentinel will update this report at ChattahoocheeNews.com upon receiving a response from the Department of Children and Families and/or another official source; or upon obtaining additional information that can be objectively verified beyond doubt.
By Brian Dekle