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‘Mass infection at mental ward attributable to poor conditions’

7 deaths, 114 confirmed cases linked to Cheongdo hospital

National Medical Center staff inspect the mental ward of the hospital in Cheongo, North Gyeongsang Province. (NMC)
National Medical Center staff inspect the mental ward of the hospital in Cheongo, North Gyeongsang Province. (NMC)

The mental ward of a hospital at the center of a slew of coronavirus infections is accused of having poorly managed communal settings for inpatients, exposing them to the disease en masse, a National Medical Center committee said Wednesday.

Addressing a press briefing, the center’s clinical management committee for emerging infectious diseases said upon onsite inspections, the hospital was found to have accommodated several patients in single rooms without beds, which were not properly ventilated with the windows and doors kept closed.

The patients used shared bathrooms and partook in group therapy sessions, keeping them in constant contact with others.

Such conditions are believed to have contributed to the rampant spread of the disease at the ward, the committee said, although the source of infection is yet to be identified.

The committee said patients were also likely to have been immunocomprised.

Because it was a closed ward, patients had limited mobility and suffered loss of muscle mass from lack of exercise. Patients who were staying long-term were found to be undernourished.

Patients with mental illness have difficulties in communicating their health conditions, which may have led to failure in early detection of the disease, the committee said.

Hygiene of the patients presented an added complication.

Some patients were not able to use hand sanitizers or wash their hands without assistance, the committee said, quoting hospital staff.

As of Wednesday, seven of 12 virus-linked deaths in Korea were former patients of the hospital.

The medical center on Wednesday dispatched a team of medical staff to the hospital in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province, for disinfection and other infection control measures.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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