Slow action on COVID-19 led to deaths at St. Elizabeths Hospital, report finds

More than a dozen patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital have died from COVID-19, and a new report suggests the hospital was slow to react to the pandemic.

The report from Disability Rights DC, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, said that St. Elizabeths did not take aggressive and effective enough measures to protect patients from the deadly virus.

The advocacy group reported that by May 9, 2020 — just one month after the first staff member at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19 — 14 patients were dead, and 78 patients had been infected.

It also said another patient died in Oct. 2020 from COVID-19 related symptoms, and in February, another two patients lost their lives to the virus  — adding up to a total of 17 deaths.

To date, more than half of the hospital’s patients have been infected.

A D.C. human services website confirmed that 17 patients and one staff member at St. Elizabeths Hospital have died from COVID-19 as of early March.

Hospital staffers reported that they were not provided with the equipment and resources needed to adequately protect the patients, according to the Disabilities Rights DC report.

It cites an unnamed nurse who tested positive for COVID-19 in April. She said the hospital failed to quarantine a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in March, according to the report.

The same nurse said that the hospital failed to adequately supply personal protective equipment. She reported that mask use had been “inconsistent,” and that the hospital distributed some high-grade N95 masks to its administrators — who were not directly working with COVID-19 patients — instead of employees in direct contact with the virus.

The report alleged St. Elizabeths Hospital “does not have a robust infectious-disease department or other medical resources found at medical hospitals.”

Disability Rights DC is calling for the hospital’s leadership to respond to the failures outlined in the report and provide corrective action to address them. It also wants assurances that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be followed more closely in the future.

“Since the onset of the public health emergency, Saint Elizabeths Hospital has followed DC Health and CDC guidance on infection control and mitigation strategies which include onsite, regular testing of patients and staff, isolation and quarantine protocols, and proper PPE,” the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health, which manages the hospital, said in a statement provided to WTOP.

“The hospital continues to admit and treat people to recover from severe mental illnesses while maintaining a safe environment for patients and employees.”

Kyle Cooper

Weekend and fill-in anchor Kyle Cooper has been with WTOP since 1992. Over those 25 years, Kyle has worked as a street reporter, editor and anchor. Prior to WTOP, Kyle worked at several radio stations in Indiana and at the Indianapolis Star Newspaper.

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