CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The coronavirus outbreak inside the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital system has worsened over the past week, with state officials reporting nearly a quarter of all patients have tested positive.
Spokesperson Randy Edgar said Wednesday 47 patients at the psychiatric and behavioral hospital tested positive for COVID-19 over the past 10 days, totaling 23% of the roughly 200 patients currently living at the hospital’s two campuses in Cranston and Burrillville.
The outbreak has come amid a surge of coronavirus infections statewide, but also in the wake of the hospital using COVID-positive employees to staff operations amid an ongoing workforce crisis.
“The hospital continues to monitor the conditions of these patients very closely,” Edgar said. “In most cases these patients have exhibited relatively mild symptoms.”
There have been no deaths from the outbreak and “very few hospitalizations,” Edgar added. Eleanor Slater is technically licensed as a long-term acute care hospital, but it typically sends patients to other hospitals for emergency care. Edgar declined to specify what “very few” meant.
“In an abundance of caution out of respect to patient confidentiality, we’re declining to say more about that right now,” he said.
Amid an ongoing staffing crisis that’s affecting the nation’s health care industry, Eleanor Slater used a new state policy based on federal guidance, allowing them to call in COVID-positive staff around New Year Day. The decision evoked sharp criticism and public scrutiny, even though state officials have since said the staffing arrangement — which involved asymptomatic staff working in the hospital on Jan. 1 and Jan 3 — was “not connected to the COVID outbreak.”
“Asymptomatic staff who worked on Jan. 1 and 3 were only in the areas with COVID-positive patients, with one exception,” state officials wrote on the website of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which oversees Eleanor Slater.
“In the one instance, an asymptomatic staff member did work with patients who did not have COVID, however there have been no COVID-positive cases reported in the area where this work took place,” they added.
Edgar said no COVID-positive workers had staffed the hospital since Jan. 3.