WCVB
Date: 7/14/20

Addiction in Massachusetts has not stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic. In April, a local treatment center moved quickly to convert a space on its campus into a specialized unit for COVID-19 positive patients seeking addiction services. View the WCVB story here.

Spectrum Health Systems provides addiction services to more than 200 people on its Westborough campus alone. Company leaders didn't want to turn away COVID-19 positive patients seeking addiction services but they had to keep everyone else safe from infection.

"We actually had the perfect space. A 15 bed isolated wing that has its own entrance," said Kristin Nolan, senior vice president of behavioral health. Staff moved fast to get it ready. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency delivered the personal protective equipment staff would need on the unit every time they entered, including two masks, two pairs of gloves, a gown and face shield. In a matter of days, the unit accepted its first COVID positive patient.

"We're interacting with them just like we would on a regular nursing unit," said AnnMarie Chimera, one of the nurses who volunteered to work on the unit. Chimera said, at one point, 13 of the 15 beds were filled and some of them were scared. "Am I going to go into respiratory distress? Am I going to be intubated? What's going to happen with me?" Chimera said. She worked to ease their fears as those patients started addiction treatment. Each patient received an iPad for virtual therapy and counseling as well as access to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Patients spent two to three weeks, in quarantine, on the unit. That isolation perhaps a benefit to a very challenging situation. "For them to come in and kind of forget the world around them and just focus on themselves, their addiction. To be able to work through that and have that one on one time with their counselor, I think that is definitely the silver lining," Chimera said.

Close to 50 people have gone through the COVID unit since it opened. They are required to have two negative COVID tests before they are cleared to either leave the campus or continue with other services Spectrum offers. As coronavirus case numbers have declined in Massachusetts, fewer people need the unit but the company plans to keep it ready, just in case

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