WORCESTER (CBS) – There is a television playing a peaceful video of a walk in the woods, a communal dining space, and a room for group therapy. At UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, there is a new unit treating COVID-19 patients that is unlike the others.

This unit, the newly converted Psychiatric Treatment and Recovery Center, is dedicated to treating patients who need in-patient psychiatric treatment and who also test positive for the coronavirus.

Staff say the decision was made to dedicate the unit to these patients who were suffering in other more isolating settings.

“It felt like I was poisoned when I was over there. No one wanted to sit with me. No one wanted to be in my room,” occupational therapist Kristen Schuler-Weisberg said one patient told her about his COVID-19 treatment. “That would be devastating to any of us let alone someone who has the double whammy of this scary virus plus an anxiety disorder, plus depression.”

The PTRC has 26 in-patient beds and the patients are treated much as they were before the pandemic. This time, however, they are dressed in full personal protective equipment.

Schuler-Weisberg says she wears a picture of herself on her gown to put the patients at ease.

“I’ve heard specifically from a patient who didn’t know me previous to this that that was helpful, to know there was actually someone under all of this,” she said.

The new model has its challenges.

“Our staff at the PTRC is really skilled at taking care of complicated psychiatric patients. We don’t generally take care of complicated medical patients,” psychiatrist Dr. John Sullivan said.

But, staff say the risk of the virus is worth the reward of helping their patients overcome this tough time.

Louisa Moller

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