Date: July 17, 2020
Contact: Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936, (406) 461-3757, jebelt@mt.gov
                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391, (406) 461-8367, hcouncil@mt.gov

DPHHS Reports Montana State Hospital Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials announced today one Montana State Hospital (MSH) employee has tested positive for COVID-19.

MSH administration and the individual that tested positive are working directly with the DPHHS Public Health and Safety Division staff and the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Health Department to conduct contact tracing to identify any close contacts as part of the ongoing investigation.

DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said additional preventive safety measures were initially put in place in March and have been revised as needed in accordance with modifications to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for healthcare facilities in response to COVID-19 in preparation for positive cases at MSH.

“We have been working diligently to implement additional infectious disease control measures for the past several months to protect the health and safety of patients and staff,” Hogan said. “We are closely monitoring this situation and continue to work diligently to prevent spread of COVID-19 at this facility.”

The employee that tested positive does not provide direct care to patients in the facility but does have some limited contact with patients and staff as part of standard job duties. The employee was under protocol to wear a mask when in contact with patients as required of all MSH staff.

To date, there’s been no positive COVID-19 cases related to the Montana State Hospital patients. The employee that tested positive has been in self-quarantine since July 16. It is believed the employee contracted COVID-19 through a family member.

Staff and patients determined to have had close contact with the employee will be tested. In addition, MSH is participating in Governor Bullock’s enhanced surveillance testing that involve state and county congregate living settings, such as state correctional institutions, mental health facilities, treatment centers and facilities for those with developmental needs. Approximately 50 percent of MSH staff and patients have been tested thus far and to date all test results have been negative.

Hogan stated that MSH has numerous infectious disease prevention measures in place including:

  • Some physical changes at the hospital to prevent COVID-19 include suspension of physical patient visitation, installation of hygiene supply stands at multiple locations, medical evaluation stations at key entryways, and limiting interactions between patients.
  • All staff reporting for duty are screened by medical personnel for symptoms of an infectious condition as per the CDC guidelines for healthcare facilities.
  • Patients are screened upon admission and twice daily for symptoms of an infectious condition, including COVID-19. The screening process at admission includes an antigen test for COVID-19. Patients do not have contact with other patients until a negative test is confirmed.
  • Patients are encouraged to practice social distancing throughout the day, including during at mealtime, daily activities, etc.
  • Staff are currently required to utilize facemasks suitable for healthcare professionals while on-duty in all hospital areas. Use of face masks has been standard practice in all direct care areas of the hospital since May 1, 2020.
  • Staff have been using PPE in accordance with CDC guidelines for healthcare facilities related to COVID-19 and as per the hospital infectious control policies.
  • Staff have been directed follow all the public health prevention measures such as staying home if sick, washing their hands and cleaning surfaces more frequently.
  • State and Federal licensing rules require MSH to have infectious disease control plans in place to contain other diseases as well.

Hogan said the MSH infectious disease control plans do to address the scenario should a patient test positive. The first step would be to isolate within the facility or treat at a primary care facility such as a local hospital depending on the severity of the symptoms. 

However, there are areas of the MSH designated to safely isolate patients who exhibit symptoms should the need arise. This is the same procedure used for patients who show symptoms for other viruses such as influenza.   

DPHHS will release additional information related to the ongoing investigation as it is known.


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