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43 COVID-19 cases in outbreak at state hospital

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Montana State Hospital

The entrance to the campus of the Montana State Hospital at Warm Springs.

The only state-run psychiatric hospital in Montana is amid a COVID-19 outbreak, the state health department confirmed late Thursday.

Forty-three cases have been confirmed among staff and patients, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services spokesperson Jon Ebelt wrote in an email Thursday. The cases are roughly split between patients and staff, he said. The first case in the outbreak was confirmed "a couple weeks ago," Ebelt added.

Montana State Hospital provides psychiatric evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation services for adults with severe mental illness. 

The facility includes the Spratt Unit, a geriatric wing of the hospital. Ebelt declined to confirm which areas of the hospital are involved in the outbreak. 

Ebelt said Thursday no one has been transported to a different health care setting for additional care related to COVID-19.

"As we have throughout the pandemic with outbreaks at state facilities, nursing homes, etc., DPHHS health care-associated infections staff have been consulting with MSH management regarding mitigation efforts and providing technical assistance," Ebelt said. 

The outbreak has hit at a time when the state hospital is also experiencing a staffing crisis: 40% of positions are open at the facility, and many jobs are filled by traveling contract staff at a more expensive rate than full-time employees. A legislative interim committee has scheduled a panel hearing on the hospital's staffing shortage next week. 

Statewide, Montana is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases once again as the highly contagious omicron variant speeds through the population. The state reported 1,760 new cases on Thursday, with 10,482 active cases and 178 active hospitalizations. 

The vaccination rate in Deer Lodge County, where the state hospital is located, is 64%, while the statewide rate of those eligible for vaccination is 53%.

Montana State News Bureau
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