Chehalis Rehab Facility Confirms Another COVID-19 Outbreak This Week as Some Staff and Clients Voice Concerns

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A rehabilitation facility in Chehalis is again dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 after mass testing this week returned a number of positive cases in both clients and staff.

It’s not yet known how many people are confirmed to have COVID-19, said American Behavioral Health Systems (ABHS) Director of Operations Marc Malmer, but a number of clients are quarantining inside a remote wing at the facility, located at 500 S.E. Washington Ave.

“We are not actively admitting clients at this time,” Malmer said Friday.

He said an outbreak was confirmed at the facility shortly after routine weekly testing on Wednesday, though the private provider was still working late this week to confirm how many people at the facility tested positive for the viral disease. They were still testing as of Friday.

On Thursday, ABHS admitted a number of patients before shutting down their in-take operations, Malmer said.

“I can’t express enough that they're absolutely safe, separated, in a secure environment, and quarantined. We are not admitting at this time,” he said.

The largest private provider of substance abuse treatment services in the state of Washington, according to its website, with locations also in Wenatchee and Spokane, ABHS has struggled with coronavirus outbreaks at its facility in Chehalis before.

During an August outbreak, at least 53 were confirmed to have tested positive for the virus, according to previous Chronicle coverage. In September 2020, about 23 clients were confirmed infected with the virus.

No deaths have been reported due to a COVID-19 infection, though two were hospitalized last August.

Some clients have voiced concern with how the facility is addressing the outbreak.

Tara Garcia-Munoz, 51, of Rochester, has a friend who is a client of the facility, and she said he saw more than 30 COVID-positive and some negative patients spend about two hours together in a hallway during testing this week.

Her friend also said staff had failed to disinfect rooms previously occupied by COVID-positive clients before moving non-symptomatic clients in there, though that and other claims could not be confirmed by The Chronicle.

“He’s in fear of his health and safety, so he’s kind of freaking out. He’s already had health issues before and he just doesn’t know what to do,” she said. “Something needs to be done. They need to close that place down … I’m just really concerned for their safety and for their health.”

Malmer denies that they’ve risked infecting patients not infected with COVID-19.

They’re currently following all state and federal health standards to disinfect rooms, and are actively separating non-infected patients from isolating patients from quarantining patients, Malmer said.

One employee, who asked to provide information on the condition of anonymity, disputes the timeline laid out by Malmer.

The employee told The Chronicle that they’ve been dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak for more than two weeks now, and that they’ve been operating with “unsafe staff levels,” with some coming in sick.

“I don’t believe they’re handling it correctly and they're just sweeping stuff under the rug,” the employee said, noting that many staffers are “burnt out.”

Lewis County Public Health & Social Services reported this week there are currently 13 outbreaks at congregate care facilities.