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Amid COVID-19 outbreak, state commissioner halts admissions at Danville's Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute
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Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute

Amid COVID-19 outbreak, state commissioner halts admissions at Danville's Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute

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Following a recent coronavirus outbreak at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute, a state commissioner has ordered the facility to temporarily stop admissions there. 

"Taking into consideration the recommendations from [the Virginia Department of Health], I am directing that admissions be ceased temporarily to SVMHI until further notice to ensure safety of existing patients and staff, and to protect any incoming admission," Alison Land, commissioner with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services wrote in letter to stakeholders and members of the Virginia General Assembly on Tuesday. 

Four clients and four staff members at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute tested positive for the coronavirus, the department confirmed Monday.

In addition, test results are pending for four more staff members at the facility.

When reached by the Danville Register & Bee on Tuesday, facility director Bill Cook would not comment for this story but referred questions to the department. 

Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute is a 72-bed psychiatric hospital that provides inpatient services including psychiatric care, nursing, psychological and psychosocial rehabilitation and support, and specialized programs for adults aged 18-65 and individuals involved in the justice system.  

The facility offers services including diagnosis, medication management, psychological assessment, group therapy, activity therapy, family education and community meetings. 

Patients are admitted to the facility by referral from one of the state's 40 locally operated community services boards in the the individual's home community through a pre- screening process, said Lauren Cunningham, spokeswoman with the department of behavioral health and developmental services.   

The average length of stay for a patient at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute is 28 days, Cunningham said. There were 60 patients at the facility as of Tuesday, she said. 

The Danville center has 183 employees. 

Land, in her message to the General Assembly, said the department "has been working closely with the VDH to implement infection control measures to limit the continued spread of COVID-19 to contain the positive cases."

"SVMHI needs all the flexible space it currently has available to isolate those who tested positive and ensure the safety of the existing patients and staff at the facility," Land said. "DBHDS is at work establishing specialized isolation, quarantine and general units at SVMHI that would alleviate current concerns about spreading infection and allow DBHDS to reopen admissions."

The department of health will provide the facility with COVID-19 test kits for patients and staff with symptoms, Land added. 

Visitation at the department of behavioral health developmental services' 12 facilities, including SVMHI, has been restricted since March, Land said. 

"All staff and patients are screened daily for symptoms, expanded infections control measures are firmly in place, and positive and potentially positive cases are immediately quarantined," Land said. 

Cunningham said the department does not have a time estimate on how long the halt on patient admissions will be in place. 

"We will work with the Virginia Department of Health to determine when admissions can be safely reopened," she said. "In the meantime, any possible admissions to SVMHI will be diverted to other state hospitals or other local private hospitals." 

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