American Mental Healthcare Facilities are Woefully Unprepared for Coronavirus

Protecting Against Coronavirus 3-30-20

My Coronavirus Gear

I work as a counselor at an acute mental healthcare facility in the Southeastern United States. I love what I do, but what I’ve observed during the past one month is that acute mental healthcare in the United States is woefully unprepared to tackle the coronavirus. Mental healthcare is something that we’re not hearing much of anything about during this crisis because of the focus on medical care, though protective precautions for patients and employees in the mental healthcare industry – particularly acute, long-term, and residential facilities – must be addressed and improved.

On Friday, March 6, 2020, I began wearing my own N95 masks – that I bought from eBay sellers – to work. I paid a high price for the masks, but it was worth it. I was the first employee (to my knowledge) to wear any type of mask at my place of employment, due to my own coronavirus precautions. Beginning on Friday, March 20, 2020, I also added cotton gloves to my arsenal of gear, also purchased from a vendor on eBay. Keep in mind that I’m not sick, and I’m doing whatever possible to stay that way with having to go to work.

Medical and healthcare policies toward protecting patients and staff from potential coronavirus exposure and infection need improvement in American mental health facilities. Only last week did my facility begin requiring employees to get temperature checks before entering any units. Each person is on their honor to now do their own temperature check and log the correct temperature. No medically-qualified staff are present when this occurs, nor to confirm the results. It may also be a good idea to have staff check their temperatures prior to leaving work, as well, though that has not yet been required.

Patients coming into my facility from other hospitals are generally already wearing masks that they’ve gotten from the previous facility. Only last week did my hospital begin supplying surgical masks to those patients and staff who ask for them. My understanding is that there is a low supply. More and more staff during the course of the past one month are wearing masks, including a few wearing N95 masks, and the majority wearing surgical masks. I would estimate, however, that not even one-quarter of the staff who work at my hospital during the day are wearing masks.

Yesterday, I wore an N95 mask for 14 hours. I wore it for 8.5 hours at work, and also for the rest of the day, including at home. I would ordinarily only wear the mask while at work, but yesterday, I was exposed to a staff member who was exposed to a patient at his other hospital who is in serious, if not critical, condition due to the coronavirus. I did inform two supervisors about it, and I wiped my department office down with Lysol since this colleague was also using my desk. Today, my work colleague got tested. When I checked-in with him, he stated to me that he has to wait 5-7 days for results and stay quarantined for 14 days. There was also a patient on the unit I was assigned to who was sent out to a medical hospital, yesterday, due to potential coronavirus symptoms. So, while I wasn’t exposed to that patient, I was exposed to staff who were exposed to that patient. Thankfully, I wear my mask and gloves at work for everything except eating and drinking, so I hope I’m safe from being infected.

Today, I’ve already worn the same N95 mask for 12 hours that I wore yesterday. I’m taking precautions to protect my family in case I have the coronavirus. I also washed in the laundry today three pairs of cotton gloves that I’ve been wearing – while also continuing to wear another pair. I figure that if I have coronavirus symptoms, they’ll start to appear within about three days, from what I’ve read. By Wednesday evening, I should know one way or the other.

Of course, I’m also doing social distancing, both at work and at home, while also wearing my mask and gloves. I’m also doing my laundry after work, as well as running the dishwasher to keep dishes clean. In the shower, I’m using latex gloves and I’m not keeping my soap in the soap dish, so no one else uses it. I’m also wearing latex gloves while cooking for my family. Hopefully, all of this will help prevent this ravaging virus from infecting me and my family!

I’ve been saying for weeks at work that everyone – including patients and staff – needs to wear masks. At my facility, that has not been encouraged to say the least, though I hope it will be in the near future for everyone’s protection. Everyone in facilities throughout the United States needs to wear masks, and if they’re not already wearing gloves, to wash their hands often and sanitize their areas as much as possible. We don’t know everything there is to know about this virus, though what we do know is scary and tragic. Too many people have already been lost to this horrible pandemic. People in the United States – and around the world – need to take coronavirus much more seriously, including mental healthcare professionals – for our own welfare as well as that of everyone we treat!

 

“Gwinnett Tech Screens out it’s Own Honor Student, Twice” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

'Gwinnett Technical College' Wording on Diploma Cover

‘Gwinnett Technical College’ Wording on Diploma Cover

Sometimes, a person just has to let some things go.  However painful, this has been one of those things… 

In 2010-2011, I returned to school at my local Gwinnett Technical College (GTC) on Georgia’s Hope Grant, pursuing studies that certified me in healthcare.  In transferring courses from my undergraduate university, as well as completing required prerequisite courses to pursue further program studies in healthcare-related fields, I successfully completed all courses and requirements, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, being named to the dean’s list on two occasions, being named to the college’s honor society – as well as being an active participant in it – and earning a percentile score of 97% on the HOBET, a healthcare admissions examination.  In two of my courses completed at GTC, I also earned the highest possible ethics score of 3/3 for my performance, a score that is rarely issued to students unless exceptional ethics and mastery is reflected.

Having been unable to re-enter into the teaching field for two years – at that time in 2010 – I chose to pursue a career change.  It was my desire to pursue my interest in healthcare, and to enter into a nursing or other healthcare-related field.  Reflecting my interests, schedule availability, and financial need, I applied – twice – to GTC’s program in medical assisting, and was twice rejected from it.  Being eligible for the Federal Workforce Investment Act Grant in Gwinnett County, since I had been laid off from my previous employment, I met all the criteria for receiving the Grant due to employment as well as financial circumstances.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that the Grant was not transferrable to other counties and was required to be used – if issued – in Gwinnett County, since that was the location of the employer that had laid me off one year prior to that.

Devastated that I had been rejected from my desired program of study on the first occasion, I went through the appropriate channels of college administration and made a formal complaint.  In part, I expressed how the majority of the individuals who met with me in the formal interview process were nearly 30 minutes late to the arranged interview time, that there was no apology provided for their lateness, that the program director basically told me that I was overqualified and wondered why I was pursuing a program in which the income was low, and that the interviewers’ questions were extremely negatively-focused.  I also informed college administrators (the president and two vice presidents) that I was told by one interviewer that I would fail (!) the program.  I stated in my complaint that it was obvious to me that the decision had been made to reject me from the program long before the formal interview, and that the interview only sealed the fate they already had planned for me. 

When – as I expected – the president finally responded in writing (see letter to follow) to my complaint and appeal, she upheld the decision of the interview panel to reject me, as well as the decision of one of her vice presidents in refusing to reconsider my application to the program for that semester.  I then met with the vice president who refused to reconsider me, and discovered, in part, that the program director told her that she believed that I would be unable to complete the program due to my financial status.  What?!  The Workforce Investment Act Grant would have paid for my studies, and with my 4.0 GPA and outstanding ethics, I would have likely had nothing but success in the program, once accepted.  The vice president was further concerned that I had written to certain state government officials, particularly the state labor department commissioner, about the rejection that I had experienced, stating that the manner in which I was rejected was unprofessional.  Was it not unprofessional?

Gwinnett Technical College President's Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC's First Rejection of me, August 2011

Gwinnett Technical College President’s Response to my Complaint and Appeals Regarding GTC’s First Rejection of me, August 2011

I, therefore, wrote additional appeals for consideration for entry into the medical assisting program at GTC – and explained all of the circumstances surrounding my desire to pursue the program and being rejected from it – to a number of state and federal government officials, some of whom included the governor and his wife, a Congress member and his assistant, the technical college commissioner and his assistant, and higher ranking members of our national government, including the President, First Lady, Vice President, and Secretary of State. 

I received kind responses from the Governor (see letter to follow), the Congress Member’s assistant, an assistant to the US President, and the US First Lady, Michelle Obama.  The technical college commissioner’s assistant also heard me out on a couple of occasions, though nothing was done to overturn the decision that was already made to reject me, nor to reconsider me in any way at that time. 

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, July 2011

Honorable Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Response Letter Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, July 2011

The response that included much common sense and understanding about my personal situation was that which I received from First Lady Michelle Obama.  She, in part, suggested to me that I do something else to benefit my community (see letter below).

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College's Rejection of me, August 2011

Letter to me from Honorable United States First Lady Michelle Obama Regarding Gwinnett Technical College’s Rejection of me, August 2011

A number of efforts were made by staff at GTC to usher me into different healthcare-related programs, and/or to encourage me to consider other options, including applying for several positions as an instructor at the college.  My heart, however, was set on pursuing the medical assisting program, and so, less than one year later, I applied to the program for a second time. 

On the second occasion in which I interviewed for the medical assisting program, a brand new program director had been hired and who was present in the interview, as well as an entirely different interview team.  Though I thought the interview to have proceeded professionally and well, and believed that I had a wonderful chance at acceptance – even though my second application to the program was overlooked in Admissions and I had to follow-up on it several times in order for it to be recognized – I was rejected again, for the second time. 

Devastated again, for the second time, I decided that enough was enough.  After spending three years in trying to pursue medical assistant studies at GTC and being rejected twice – after also being an honor graduate there – it was time to walk away.  I could see that there was no convincing the folks there of my interest, desire, and need to pursue this career.  They had not provided me with an opportunity to succeed, but only to fail, and it was imperative that I find success elsewhere.  Perhaps they felt threatened by my education, perhaps they did not believe in me, perhaps they just didn’t like me.  After all, the new program director was less educated than I am.  Whatever the reason(s), I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter anymore.

Following this second rejection, I did not write any letters.  I did not make any formal complaints.  I did not call any government officials.  Instead, I was just heartbroken and I cried.  It was just too sad and too much for me to bear.  I discovered that it was actually true that so many people did not want me to succeed.  Even one of the professors about whom I had written a compliment letter to admininstrators, and who was an interview panel member in my second interview, rejected me.  So many people withheld an opportunity for me to be successful, to pursue an interesting career, to be able to care for myself and my family in a manner that would have provided increased financial security.  I resolved that it was their problem and their loss.

It would have been easy to give up following these rejections.  It has been these rejections added to so many other rejections.  It is easy for people to say to try again, to keep trying, not to give up.  However, one cannot get ahead when one continually runs into a brick wall.  A single, divorced mother without employment and who is highly-educated cannot give up.  No matter how much I am down, I always, always find a way back up.  I have strength.  I have faith.  And, I know that God is always there for me, no matter how difficult and impossible the circumstances.  I know that life may often seem unfair.

Needless to say, I have not applied to GTC’s medical assisting program for a third time.  No, I’m not going to do that.  Why waste any more of my time, effort, hope, emotion, and money?  I’ve already walked away.  My hurt has healed.  I realize that the door was closed to me long before I even went to my first interview for consideration into the program.  I need something that can deliver.  I do not desire to be in a place where I am not valued or understood, so I am now thankful for being rejected from a place in which so many did not value or understand me, my interests, or my needs.

So, I look back on all of this, now, and believe that – as I always do – everything happens for a reason.  When one door shuts, another is opened.  I have faith, and I have hope.  And only time will tell.