Months after raising their initial concerns in July, Fountain valley Regional Hospital medical workers are still pushing hospital administration for more testing and better coronavirus protocols as a second wave is battering Orange County.
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It began with staff protesting their facility’s working conditions during Orange County’s first July coronavirus wave.
Then came a critical state audit of hospital administrators and procedures in September, followed by vows from management to implement better worker safety measures.
Now an employee is dead.
“COVID-19 took a terrible toll on my father,” Irene Santos said at a Monday news conference in front of the hospital.
Her father, Armando Rodriguez died earlier this month after battling the virus since late July and early August, Santos said.
She said her father was living with family members who tested positive for the virus.
“His supervisors told him to come to work the next day,” Santos said.
But Tenet Healthcare, who owns the hospital, said management is following protocols.
“All employees at our hospital are temperature checked upon arrival, wear a mask during patient care and are required to notify employee health if they become symptomatic. They are not permitted to work in the hospital caring for patients if exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19,” said spokesman Todd Burke in a Monday email.
Barbara Lewis, director of the hospital division for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, said there’s currently seven Fountain Valley Regional Hospital medical workers quarantining after being exposed to the virus by a patient who wasn’t originally tested for the virus.
She said the union, which represents many workers like x-ray technicians and nursing assistants at the hospital, is still fighting for automatic virus testing for newly admitted patients.
“They have to test people to keep the community safe,” she said.
Burke said they’re following state and federal guidelines.
“We continue to follow the guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect the health and safety of our patients and staff during this unprecedented pandemic,” Burke said.
He also said there’s plenty of protective equipment.
“We can safely care for our patients with the supplies we currently have. To prevent potential exposure, all physicians, nurses and staff who care for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients are required to wear the appropriate PPE including N95 face masks and face shields or goggles,” Burke said.
But Lewis, along with other workers, said the hospital should still automatically test new patients for the virus, even though state guidelines don’t call for automatic testing.
“Testing of patients is provided based on symptoms and physician order. If an employee is symptomatic, we follow the CDCs return-to- work guidance for testing,” Burke said.
Meanwhile, the virus has now killed 1,554 people out of 71,116 confirmed cases.
The virus has already killed nearly three times as many people in Orange County as the flu does on an average yearly basis.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
According to those same statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, over 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
OC is on track to surpass its average yearly deaths with over 19,000 people dead as of October, according to state health data.
Orange County also saw 1,422 new cases on Monday, a number that hasn’t been seen since the Summer case spikes that led to over 700 people hospitalized at one point in July.
As of Monday, 428 people were hospitalized, including 105 in intensive care units.
That’s a nearly 134% increase in hospitalizations since the month began, when 183 people were hospitalized.
Fountain Valley Regional Hospital certified nursing assistant Mailinh Nguyen recalls being exposed to a COVID-19 positive patient she sat with for two consecutive 12-hour shifts, and still being told by a supervisor to come into work.
“I kept working for two more nights,” Nguyen said, as speakers with signs and megaphones shouted over passing ambulances in front of the hospital.
It was only after a meeting between management and her hospital workers’ union that she was ordered to quarantine, she said. But by then, she added she had already been exposed to other people inside the facility.
After the state audit pointed out problems with hospital administrative decisions, Nguyen said some things got better. But hazard pay and testing for staff remained an outstanding demand.
For workers to remain outside the hospital protesting, even after the state report, “scares us,” Nguyen said. “After all these issues, we still cannot get tested by the hospital, by our own employers. Now we have examples like Armando.”
While she spoke to Voice of OC, a co-worker interrupted to tell her the hospital was in “Code Beta 2.”
“Seriously?” Nguyen replied. Asked what that meant, she and the coworker said “We’re packed full, we don’t have room, and we’re sending staff home.”
“It’s all about money,” Nguyen said, shaking her head. “It’s all about money.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data: