New data released this month by the California Department of Health Care Services shows 61 residential mental health and drug treatment facilities have had one or more cases of COVID-19 among staff or patients.
The department oversees roughly 1,000 residential substance use facilities, and 59 mental health rehabilitation centers and psychiatric health facilities.
Almost all of the facilities in the new data set have less than 11 cases, which means the department doesn’t list their total case numbers, citing privacy concerns. But a few of them had higher case counts. One statewide drug treatment provider saw 40 cases among staff and 38 among residents, and a Sacramento mental health rehabilitation center had 40 resident cases.
In the Sacramento area, six facilities in Sacramento County and two in San Joaquin County had reported cases as of June 16.
Susan Gallagher, director of consumer-led mental health advocacy group Cal Voices, wrote a letter to the state last month asking for more transparency around these facilities.
“Many clients were starting to call us to tell us there were outbreaks at different care facilities throughout the state, and we wanted to verify if this was true,” Gallagher said.
The department says they did not release the data in response to the letter, and is following mitigation techniques provided by the California Department of Public Health.
People living with a mental illness often have a co-occuring substance use disorder. Concerns about heightened risk for individuals with addictions, whether living in an inpatient facility or not, emerged early on in the pandemic. These individuals may use drugs in a way that compromises their pulmonary and respiratory function, and they may be more likely to suffer from other pre-existing health conditions related to living in poverty. Living in a group home with shared living spaces adds another layer of risk.
Crestwood Behavioral Health runs the Sacramento mental health center where 40 residents became sick. It’s in the Oak Park neighborhood, which has one of the highest case counts of any ZIP code in the county.
Spokesperson Larry Kamer said a patient brought the virus into the center after a medical visit.
“In the time between his return and the time he tested positive, several days had gone by, and we think that may be how others were affected,” he said.
He says as soon as the positive test came in, staff started isolating patients and moved group therapy online. All of the Crestwood patients recovered.
Kamer said a mental health treatment facility carries many of the same risks as other places where people live together. There are common spaces, dining areas and group therapy, though that is now happening virtually for the most part.
“People were justifiably laser-focused on nursing homes, because so much was happening in nursing homes,” he said. “But there are other types of facilities that certainly deserve monitoring and study.”
State health officials made the data available in early June. Health officials put out guidelines for how congregate care facilities should prevent and handle outbreaks in April.
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