Repeated Quarantines At St. Elizabeth Hospital Can Keep Patients Isolated Up For Weeks

(1-19-22) A new Covid related issue involving patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in the District of Columbia has surfaced. The hospital was successfully sued in 2020 after 14 deaths and 100 infections caused by Covid. Federal Judge Randolph Moss noted that “roughly one out of every twenty patients has died and more than one out of every three patients have been infected” and found that there is “an imminent risk to [patients’] health and well-being, and the consequences of contracting the virus are irreparable.”

Now, questions are being raised about whether hospital administrators have gone from not doing enough to doing too much by keeping patients locked on wards for long quarantine periods.

With rising Covid infections, the hospital adopted a color coded system to control Covid spread.

All patients and staff are now tested weekly, although patients can refuse. If a patient tests positive, the unit where that patient is housed is labeled red. If a staff member tests positive, the unit is labelled yellow. In both situations, the unit is put on a full 14-day quarantine.

There are 12 units in the hospital and recently most have been under quarantine. Each unit can house as many as 20 patients although some hold less. Even if a patient tests negative in a color coded unit, that individual must remain in quarantine.  Those under red quarantine cannot leave their unit for medical, dental, or eye appointments, even if those appointments are scheduled on St. Elizabeth’s grounds and they test negative, I was told. Those in yellow areas also are largely restricted from leaving their units.

Given the rapid spread of the Omicron virus, this quarantine process might seem reasonable. But with staff members, who live in the community coming-and-going every day, and Covid spreading at a rapid pace, 14 day quarantines can quickly turn into 28 day quarantines or longer.

Patients have different restrictions based on their symptoms and behavior. Before the quarantines, many were able to go outside, work on the grounds or in the hospital, or leave their units to visit the hospital lobby where snacks were available for purchase. “It’s a prison now,” complained one.

Obviously, the District government and St. Elizabeth administrator Mark J. Castang face many challenges in keeping employees and patients safe. Locking patients in quarantine for weeks who test negative does little to help their mental health.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.