An increasing number of Orange County medical workers are protesting hospital conditions and lack of equipment they say are leading to coronavirus outbreaks in hospital staff and patients.
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Medical workers at Kindred Hospital in Westminster protested hospital management’s handling of coronavirus patients, which they said led to an outbreak in health care staff and patients. As of Wednesday, 16 staffers caught the virus, as did 12 patients, according to workers and organizers outside the hospital.
Chief among workers’ demands is hazard pay, regular testing for staff, the creation of a new unit inside the facility for COVID-19 patients, and more personal protective equipment.
“Really concerning,” nurses like Paul Chang said Wednesday as more hospital workers getting off their shifts came outside and picked up signs, “is that we’re mixing COVID-19 patients with non-COVID-19 patients.”
Fountain Valley Regional Hospital workers also held a similar protest earlier this month, citing the same concerns.
Both protests were organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents nursing assistant, lab technicians and specialists.
In May, hospital workers at Kindred’s other location in Brea were organizing for a similar protest against equipment shortages and infections among staff — one of whom was 46-year-old Roda Vicuna, a nurse and mother of two who had been on a ventilator and later died .
Brenda Alexander, a respiratory therapist who’s worked at the Brea facility for 19 years, said workers from both locations were organizing in Westminster to prevent it from happening there as well.
“Roda never should have died,” Alexander said, watching marchers in Westminster circle back around the hospital driveway. “There are employees who totally don’t trust administration and feel demoralized. There’s no trust at all. No trust whatsoever.”
More than 40% of Kindred Brea’s patient population became infected during the height of the outbreak there, according to Emma Madrid, who’s worked at Kindred for 13 years.
“We shouldn’t feel afraid to come to work every day,” Madrid said, choking back tears because of Vicuna’s death.
Kindred in a written statement said its “top priority is to protect the health and safety of our patients and employees.”
“Upon admission, all patients who have not previously tested positive for COVID are tested in order to know their status and care for them appropriately,” reads the statement, signed by none of the hospital’s administrators.
“Consistent with the CDC’s “time and symptoms” guidelines, patients who previously tested positive are not retested. Additionally, all employees have been offered the option of testing, and are tested according to CDC guidelines if they faced a potential exposure,” reads the statement.
Administrators maintained “we have retained an abundant supply of personal protective equipment for all of our employees. In fact, every staff member who enters a patient room is provided an N-95 mask as an extra safety precaution.”
On workers’ demands for hazard pay, administrators said “we have offered ‘hero pay’ premium incentives to employees at this hospital who are providing care to COVID-19 patients. To date, the union has rejected our offer.”
The Wednesday protest also prompted local, Democratic elected officials to pick up signs and join the chanting, like Irvine Councilwoman Melissa Fox, Westminster Councilman and county supervisor candidate Sergio Contreras, and Garden Grove Councilwoman and state Assembly candidate Deidre Nguyen.
Meanwhile, the virus has now killed 521 people out of 31,743 confirmed cases, according to the county Health Care Agency.
As of Wednesday, 699 people were hospitalized, including 233 in intensive care units.
Just over 374,000 tests have been conducted throughout OC, which is home to roughly 3.2 million people.
OC joins the rest of California in the virus case spike counts. Gov. Gavin Newsom attributed the case increases to business reopenings, which have been curbed because of the case spikes.
“It’s not surprising now, in some respects, as we’ve begun to reopen key sectors of our economy and people continue to mix … that our numbers would start to go up in total now, the highest in the nation. Not highest per capita,” Newsom said at a Wednesday news conference.
The Westminster Kindred Hospital employees’ concerns echo those from medical workers at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
NUHW representative Barbara Lewis said it’s an ongoing battle to isolate COVID-19 patients and get adequate testing and more staffing.
“It’s very chaotic in there, they’re having a difficult time getting more registered nurses,” Lewis said, adding the hospital is offering $500 to $1,000 to nurses per day to bring nurses in. “So they’re trying to entice them to take more shifts.”
Yet employee concerns remain, she said.
Registered nurse Melissa Moore quit Fountain Valley hospital after 12 years because conditions got so bad, she said.
“If something doesn’t get done and people don’t speak out about it, it’s just going to continue and get worse and they’re going to have more patients suffer,” told Voice of OC earlier this month.
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC staff writer and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.