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Eastern State Hospital nurse dies of COVID-19

A longtime nurse at Eastern State Hospital, seen in 2016, has died of COVID-19. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A longtime nurse at Eastern State Hospital has died of COVID-19.

Esequiel “Zeke” Cisneros, who worked at the psychiatric facility in Medical Lake for more than 30 years, became critically ill after contracting the novel coronavirus and was treated in a local intensive care unit, his family said in an obituary published Sunday.

Cisneros died on the night of April 13, about a month after his 64th birthday.

“The virus quickly devastated Esequiel’s body and his family is thankful that he is no longer in pain,” the obituary says.

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services said in a statement: “We are devastated by the loss of one of our DSHS colleagues today. Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones. Zeke Cisneros was a dedicated licensed practical nurse at Eastern State Hospital for more than three decades and he will be greatly missed.”

DSHS spokeswoman Kelly Von Holtz said the agency couldn’t comment on the cause of Cisneros’ death because he died outside of work. She said he last worked at Eastern State Hospital on March 8.

Like the state Department of Corrections, DSHS has been scrambling to contain the virus within its facilities.

An outbreak at Western State Hospital in Lakewood has sickened at least six patients and 28 employees, according to DSHS. One patient there has died.

The agency says two Eastern State Hospital employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and one has recovered. No patients there had tested positive as of Monday. No new cases have been reported there since early April.

DSHS also lists three confirmed cases at its Fircrest School in Shoreline, one at the Child Study and Treatment Center in Lakewood, and one at the Yakima Valley School in Selah – all among employees.

Some employees at the state pscyhiatric hospitals are represented by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Jane Hopkins, a registered nurse at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle who is the union’s executive vice president, said nurses remain concerned about short supplies of personal protective equipment, including face masks.

“Having the right equipment, the right PPE, is paramount,” Hopkins said. “And I know that our members feel that they don’t have enough of that.”

Hopkins said Eastern State Hospital employees also want better COVID-19 screening protocols for patients transferred from jails in Western Washington. To alleviate problems at Western State Hospital, DSHS has begun sending more West Side criminal defendants to Medical Lake for “competency restoration” – psychiatric treatment aimed at ensuring they are fit to stand trial.

DSHS has taken some significant steps at Eastern State Hospital, including designating a ward to isolate potential cases of COVID-19, Hopkins said. But she worries psychiatric facilities have taken a backseat to other segments of Washington’s health care system.

“As a whole, behavioral health has been left behind,” she said. “We were so busy making sure that acute care hospitals had what they needed, that there was a blind spot on behavioral health.”

Attempts to reach relatives of Cisneros on Monday were unsuccessful.

The youngest of five siblings, he was born in Harlingen, Texas, and later moved to Southern California, where he graduated from Oxnard High School and studied at Ventura College, his family said in the obituary.

In 1976, Cisneros joined the Air Force and was stationed at a base in Great Falls, Montana, serving as a dental specialist. He and his first wife had a son two years later, according to the obituary.

Cisneros later earned a nursing license through North Idaho College.

“Esequiel was a hardworking, compassionate and caring nurse,” the obituary says. “He was known to always make patients and staff laugh and smile.”

Cisneros remarried in 1995 and moved to Medical Lake with his wife, Brenda, in 2001. He is survived by his wife, three siblings, three children, six grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews, according to the obituary.

A viewing and memorial service will be held Thursday at a local funeral home. The gathering will be limited to 10 guests – close family members only – due to COVID-19 precautions.

The family said “burial will proceed at a later date” at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake.