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Kindred hospital workers in Westminster demand better safety precautions after 16 workers contract COVID-19

Kindred Hospital employees protest outside the main entrance.
Kindred Hospital employees protest outside the main entrance to the 109-bed long-term care hospital to demand better safety precautions for staff and patients.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Employees of Kindred Hospital in Westminster are demanding that management take better safety precautions after 16 employees contracted the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in the last several weeks.

A deficit of personal protective equipment and adequate safety protocols are among the complaints from the hospital workers.

About 30 Kindred employees held a protest on Wednesday afternoon in front of the hospital to draw attention to the hospital’s deficiencies in dealing with the pandemic.

“Patients come in constantly with COVID, and we need to isolate and protect the people, staff members and the other patients that are in our facility from these COVID-19 patients,” said Josh Fernandez, a respiratory therapist at the hospital. “We feel the management direction and leadership is very poor.”

Of the 16 workers who have tested positive for the virus, six are currently on medical leave and another four are quarantined. About 10% of the patients in the 109-bed hospital have COVID-19.

Kindred is a long-term, acute care facility that treats many elderly patients who are transitioning from critical care. A lack of sufficient safety protocols can put these immunocompromised patients at risk for contracting the virus.

Kindred Hospital employees protest
Kindred Hospital employees protest as 16 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as 10% of the patients in the 109-bed hospital.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Fernandez said the hospital management is putting these patients at further risk with a new policy that allows the transfer of COVID-19 patients out of the Intensive Care Unit without first testing them to confirm that they are no longer positive for the virus. The practice is allowed by the CDC but is controversial to hospital workers, who believe it may cause the transfer of patients who are still contagious into other sections of the hospital.

Workers are demanding stronger protections to avoid a similar outbreak to the one at Kindred Hospital in Brea, where more than 40% of patients and 27 caregivers became infected with the virus. One of the nurses died from COVID-19.

“A lot of people are scared,” Fernandez said. “They don’t feel safe. We are understaffed at times because of what’s going on. Kindred sends mixed signals about staying home if you’re sick but you are not allowed to call out ... What we are doing together is we are trying to work with the employer to keep each other safe. We are under the same management. The only reason they seemed to up the precautions to stronger infection control measures in Brea was because they had a death of a [licensed vocational nurse].”

According to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents Kindred hospital workers, management has rejected several requests from the staff, including establishing a dedicated COVID-19 unit to fully isolate patients, providing regular testing to employees, providing sufficient personal protective equipment and increasing staffing.

Kindred Hospital in Brea no longer has any workers infected with COVID-19. During the outbreak in early- to mid-June, hospital management established a dedicated COVID unit, held weekly safety meetings with workers, provided N95 masks to all employees and offered to test employees on an ongoing basis, according to the union.

Employees from the Westminster hospital are hoping to get these same practices applied at their hospital.

“Kindred Hospital Westminster’s top priority is to protect the health and safety of our patients and employees,” Julie Myers, chief executive of Kindred Hospital in Westminster, said in an emailed statement. “With encouragement from the California Department of Public Health, the Hospital is proudly providing support to our community by offering care, in specially designated areas of the hospital, to those recovering from the COVID-19 virus, thereby helping to free up critically needed beds in our local ICUs.”

Myers also said the hospital has an “abundant supply” of personal protective equipment for all employees, and every staff member who enters a patient room is given an N95 mask.

“To recognize the extraordinary personal sacrifice of our teams who are caring for COVID-19 patients, we have offered ‘hero pay’ premium incentives to employees at this hospital who are providing care to COVID-19 patients,” Myers said. “To date, the union has rejected our offer.”

A protester at Kindred Hospital in Westminster wears a mask and a sign demanding fair hazard pay for frontline workers.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Cesar Robles, a nurse at Kindred in Westminster, said he caught the virus in mid-June while working at the hospital. He was released from the hospital on July 1 but is still recovering at home. Robles, who is no longer contagious, showed up to the rally, though he couldn’t march because he still suffers from shortness of breath due to the virus.

He’s demanding that the Westminster hospital provide at least the same benefits and precautions as the Brea location.

“They don’t want to create a COVID unit,” Robles said. “They put the nurses and patients at risk. If the nurses get infected, we are going to transmit it to the patients. Many of the patients there are on ventilators ... Are they waiting for somebody to die? That’s what they are waiting for?”

Marsha Shannon-Mabry, a monitor technician at the hospital, said she worries about being exposed to the virus every day at work.

“If I’ve been exposed, then I could bring it home and give it to the grandkids I take care of,” said Shannon-Mabry. “Me being a two time cancer survivor, that’s the last thing I want, [to] be sick myself.”

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