Virus Prompts Alegent Health to Close Behavioral Health Unit to New Admissions
Release Date: 03/04/2008

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OMAHA, Neb. — A highly contagious gastrointestinal virus has prompted Alegent Health Immanuel Medical Center to close all 65 beds in its Behavioral Health Unit to new admissions. Alegent Health is investigating how the virus got into the unit. At this time, nine people are sick including one adolescent and one nurse.

“It’s clear that this virus is causing problems in our community,” said Richard Starlin, M.D., medical director of Infection Control at Alegent Health. “Symptoms include severe diarrhea, uncontrollable vomiting, headaches and fever. It is highly contagious. The best way to stay healthy is to practice good hand-washing and avoid others who have come into contact with the virus.”

Dr. Starlin says the symptoms can last from a few hours to as long as five days; however, the virus can live in a person’s GI tract for up to 14 days.

“Due to the rapid spread of symptoms, we immediately closed all 65 beds in our behavioral health unit to new admissions,” said Ann Schumacher, vice president and chief operating officer of Immanuel Medical Center. “It was the right thing to do for the safety of our patients.”

Schumacher says the virus is contained to the Behavorial Health Unit. Patients are isolated and visitations being limited. As patients are being discharged, teams at Immanuel Medical Center are bleaching everything in the rooms and steam cleaning the carpets to avoid further contamination.

The Behavioral Health Unit will not be allowed to reopen to admissions until patients have been symptom-free for 48 hours. Until then, Alegent Health has contacted Region 6 to determine how to best care for those patients who come into area emergency departments needing care.

“We immediately contacted Region 6, other area emergency departments, local law enforcement, fire departments as well as other behavorial health community programs to advise them of the situation,” said Sheree Keely, vice president of Behavioral Health for Alegent Health. “Clearly in a situation like this it is going to take cooperation and coordination among the entire community to care for these vulnerable patients.”

Alegent Health will reassess the situation in 48 hours to determine what, if any, of the units can reopen to patients.

Immanuel Medical Center has the largest inpatient behavioral health facility in the metro area. “This situation at Immanuel illustrates how fragile our community’s inpatient behavioral health system is and points to the tremendous need for the Lasting Hope Recovery Center which opens to patients in four weeks,” said Keely.

The Lasting Hope Recovery Center, a public-private partnership, is scheduled to open to patients on April 8, 2008. It is a 64-bed, behavioral health hospital that helps patients suffering from mental illness and substance abuse.