CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Behavioral Institute’s Chief Nursing Officer, Mandy Blajszczak, knew early on that COVID-19 positive patients would be admitted to their hospital and that prevention of the virus’ spread would necessitate new precautions. That’s why preparation was made in mid-March for early identification of coronavirus symptoms and immediate isolation.
“Nursing staff at WBI were incredible in their response to an illness that, while new and frightening, was expected to surface in our community,” said Mandy.
Wyoming Behavioral Institute (WBI) in Casper is a busy 85-bed acute care psychiatric hospital serving children, adolescents and adults, with an attached psychiatric residential treatment program for 10 to 16 year olds and an onsite school. Referrals come from all across Wyoming and sometimes other states. WBI’s priority and focus is always the safety of their patients and staff and the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic provided new, but not unsurmountable, challenges for protecting everyone in the hospital.
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WBI worked closely with Natrona County Public Health Officers as new information about the virus developed and recommendations were revised.
In the interest of identifying and containing the virus the moment it arrived, local public health department testing was requested for patients meeting the criteria for risk of being COVID-19 positive. The first positives – staff and patients – were identified in late March. Symptoms reported mimicked those of allergies, not severe illness. Tracing was difficult because the positive cases were identified in different parts of the hospital. Staff testing positive were quarantined at home. Isolation areas for symptomatic patients were created; all new patients were quarantined. Some team members elected to work from home or take leaves of absence to avoid risk of exposure. Employees self-isolated at home to avoid family contact. Some employees were housed in a hotel that was willing to allow potentially exposed workers to stay there.
Nurses willingly layered themselves in protection and found creative ways to care for isolated patients already suffering from anxiety, frustration and sometimes psychosis. They collaborated with therapy teams to assure the most intensive treatment possible could be delivered in spite of the absence of usual group and milieu approaches. Nursing staff facilitated individualized care and psychiatrists’ telehealth visits.
“Our staff were prepared and confident that we were doing everything possible to meet our patients’ psychiatric needs while continuing to keep staff and patients safe,” Mandy said.
The state Department of Health invited the CDC for an on-site visit, and public health officers also reviewed WBI’s COVID-19 prevention and intervention protocol. WBI’s control of the virus’s spread was applauded as meeting and exceeding the known best practices for COVID-19 outbreak containment. More than 85% of employees tested for COVID-19 were negative. However, some were still required to quarantine for 7 to 14 days following testing.
There were no new confirmed patient or staff cases and nearly everyone testing positive had recovered within two weeks of the initial positive case confirmation. Hypervigilance developed in tandem with growing awareness that the virus might be entirely asymptomatic in some people for weeks.
Now, with no new COVID-19 cases identified at WBI and businesses reopening, admissions have resumed and capacity is slowly expanding. Patients are screened for COVID-19 exposure or symptoms and may be tested at WBI if there is concern. All of the precautions taken at the outset of the virus are still in place. Patient and staff safety are the first priority at WBI.
“We continually applauded our nursing staff for their work as healthcare heroes on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic containment effort. We placed a huge emphasis on ensuring that our patients continued to feel safe and cared for during this challenging time.”
Mandy concluded, saying, “This pandemic continues to create a difficult and challenging time within our doors and we continue to adapt to changing circumstances. While we know that the war against COVID 19 is far from over, we are confident in our ability to meet the challenge head on as we continue to provide an essential service to our patients, community and state.”
For more information about Wyoming Behavioral Institute, call 307-237-7444 or 800-457-9312, or visit https://wbihelp.com/.
May is also Mental Health Awareness month. During these times of isolation and economic hardship it is more important than ever to remain mindful of ones mental health. WBI encourages Wyoming citizens to be proactive and seek out services early if they are needed. There are resources and support available to the people in our community, regardless of the struggles you may be going through.
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.