DSHS lends nurses to DOC during COVID-19 outbreak at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center

Sarah Lomax Western State Hospital RN3, Mauro Ortiz CRCC Correctional Unit Supervisor, April Broderick Western State Hospital RN3 and Valerie Boyd Western State Hospital RN3.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a theme of “we got this” began to grow across the state. It was important, especially as many Washingtonians began to isolate themselves, for there to be a realization that even though some of us were alone, we were still all in this together.

A prime example of that is how state agencies came through to help out other partner agencies. When the Employment Security Department, for example, became overloaded with phone calls, staff from other state agencies like the Department of Social and Health Services and the Health Care Authority offered to jump in and help. Similarly, when the Department of Corrections saw an outbreak at its Coyote Ridge Facility, nurses from DSHS’ two adult psychiatric facilities jumped in to help.

“It is all about helping out each other,” explained Sean Murphy, DSHS Assistant Secretary for the Behavioral Health Administration. “We had staff who could be of assistance and who were willing to put themselves on the front line of this pandemic and so it was without question that we would do what we could to help out our colleagues over at DOC.”

Sherry Gardner Eeaster State Hospital RN3, David Haupt, Eastern State Hospital RN, Lisa Basinger Eastern State Hospital RN, Marquez Swiger Eastern State Hospital PSN, and Mary Sue Hewankorn Eastern State Hospital RN.

The Coyote Ridge Correctional Center located in Connell and it is Washington’s largest prison by capacity. DOC was experiencing a large outbreak in July when 226 inmates and 54 staff had tested positive for COVID-19. A team of DSHS employees made up of staff from the agency’s Behavioral Health Administration made the trip to Coyote Ridge to offer their help and expertise, having seen smaller outbreaks at DSHS’ Western State Hospital.

Cathey Anderson, Director of Hospital Operations for DSHS’s Behavioral Health Administration explained that when the group first arrived at the correctional center, there was a lot going on but through communication and collaboration, it did not take long for the group from DSHS to begin to become part of the coordinated team. Nurse volunteers were able to provide feedback and insight from their own experience dealing with COVID-19 to the DOC team.

Each of the 12 DSHS employees who went to Coyote Ridge were there on a 14-day assignment.

“Our nurse heroes volunteered to leave their families, patients and positions they were familiar with to be on the frontlines of a COVID-19 outbreak for DOC for two weeks,” Anderson explained.

Then, after the team members returned, they had to quarantine for an additional 14 days to ensure they were free of the virus. Anderson also shared that one of the biggest challenges was the unavailability of amenities while staying at a hotel since Benton County, where Coyote Ridge is located, was still under Phase 1.

The nurses were able to learn about the operations of the prison and ease the workloads of the DOC Health Services department by providing daily COVID-19 health screenings and providing direct care to inmates who had tested positive for the virus and, in an effort to further reduce the spread, had been moved to unit away from the rest of the population.

DSHS nurses also assisted the State Emergency Operations Center/Department of Health team by administering nasal-swab testing for the virus on their scheduled days off.

The help of these staff was not just noticed by DOC staff — an inmate wrote:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing on behalf of several inmates at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center who have had contact with members of your nursing staff. These staff members are amazing individuals. They have been professional, compassionate, empathetic and informative. Their positive attitudes and humor were a welcome change in our treatment. We here at CRCC appreciate and are grateful for their services during the COVID-19 epidemic.

We actually looked forward to seeing your staff each day.

Please express our gratitude to your staff and thank you for loaning them to us during this trying time. They were absolutely amazing!

This was a team effort and another example of how no one is alone in this fight against COVID-19. Washington, we got this!

A special thank you to all of the staff who volunteered to go:

Cathey Anderson, BHA Director of Hospital Operations

Lisa Basinger, ESH RN

April Broderick WSH RN3

Babynette “Anne” Caras, WSH RN 3

Sherry Gardner, ESH RN3

David Haupt, ESH RN

Mary Sue Hewankorn, ESH RN

Sarah Lomax, WSH RN3

Nicole Manibusan, WSH RN2

Felicia Riley, WSH PSN

Elizabeth Russell, WSH RN2

Marquez Swiger, ESH PSN