Remarks by Dr. Mark A. Keroack
President and CEO of Baystate Health
Last week, Baystate Health identified COVID-positive employees and patients on a non-COVID clinical unit at Baystate Medical Center. Baystate has reached out to all patients who received care on the unit during the time period of July 15-23, and they are being tested. Baystate has been conducting testing and contact tracing of employees who were working on the unit, as well as those employees who spent more than 15 minutes on the unit during this same time period.
As of this Monday morning (July 27), we have identified 13 COVID-positive patients and 23 COVID-positive employees related to this outbreak.
Contact tracing, in collaboration with the MA Department of Public Health and local Boards of Health, is being conducted for any patients who test positive.
Based on our extensive review by our hospital epidemiologists, we believe the group of cases on the unit resulted from several factors. We know that an employee traveled to an area within the United States that has been identified as a ‘hot spot,’ and upon return was diagnosed with the virus. In addition, we know staff convened in breakrooms and removed their masks without observing proper social distancing protocols. These simple lapses were able to happen in spite of our screening employees for fever and other symptoms before every shift, mandating mask usage and social distancing throughout the facility.
We know there is no guarantee that this virus cannot spread even when precautions are taken. Asymptomatic people may shed the virus, and those who feel they are somehow in an area without virus may let their guard down from time to time, with serious consequences. We have seen this in too many areas throughout the country.
This event reinforces that COVID-19 is highly contagious and requires vigilance in order to contain its spread.
We are deeply disappointed that this outbreak occurred, and we are committed to an ongoing review of our safety practices to ensure they are aligned with current guidelines and science. We remain committed to high quality safe care and environments, and to transparency with all in our community who count on us each and every day. We want you to know some of the steps we have taken:
While we have communicated regularly with all employees on an ongoing basis to provide COVID-19 updates, last week we informed all employees about the risk within the hospital and reinforced the practices that must be followed to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19. This includes:
- Frequent hand hygiene
- Wearing facemasks properly at ALL times fully covering nose and mouth
- Appropriate physical/social distancing
- Screening employees prior to entry
- Not coming to work with any symptoms.
- We are offering additional education and training for all employees.
We are assessing all break areas at our hospitals and reconfiguring spaces and identifying additional spaces for our employees to take breaks and have their meal when mask removal is needed.
Our culture of safety is our number one priority and we continually encourage our employees and managers to speak up in real time to correct any issue. We also have a confidential hot line for them to do so.
We also have introduced a new policy in alignment with Massachusetts travel restrictions that will take effect on August 1. This complements our existing ban on corporate travel and meetings, and it requires quarantine for any employee returning from a hot spot. We applaud Governor Baker’s new travel restrictions for all visitors coming from those hot spots.
As we have been doing since the onset of this pandemic, we are continually updating our practices and policies as we learn more about the spread of this disease, and are ensuring alignment with the regulations as set forth by the CDC and MA DPH.
We have been proud of Baystate’s collective response to the pandemic and the surge in COVID-positive patients in Massachusetts. From the beginning of the crisis in mid-March, we have cared for over 1000 patients in our hospitals with no documented transmission to patients or employees – until now.
We are now four months into the pandemic in Western Mass. While we have been relieved to see a lower prevalence of the virus in our community in recent weeks, we continue to be alarmed at the surges in other parts of the country. As I have often said at these public updates, this is not a time for complacency. With the steps we are taking at Baystate, along with continued vigilance of our team members and the community, we can and will address this outbreak. The virus will remain a real threat for many more months, and we must stay focused on taking appropriate precautions to prevent future instances of its reintroduction and spread.
See our Q&A on this topic.