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Workers, supporters demand stronger safety protocols from Fountain Valley Regional Hospital

Respiratory therapist Christina Rodriguez speaks at a press conference outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
Respiratory therapist Christina Rodriguez, who has worked at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital for 17 years and has asthma and diabetes, speaks during a press conference outside of the hospital’s emergency room on Thursday. Workers are dissatisfied with the safety protocols being implemented at the hospital.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Several dozen turned out at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital to demand that the local hospital support its staff with improved safety protocols.

A press conference held in front of the facility was organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The protesters rallied for better COVID-19 infection-control protocols, including free testing for all employees and administration of the tests to all patients admitted to the hospital.

“Workers at Fountain Valley are asking for basic protections that many other hospitals are providing,” Sal Rosselli, president of the union, said in a statement. “We’re concerned that the inadequate COVID infection protocols at Fountain Valley are emblematic of other Tenet Healthcare hospitals in the region. Tenet has $2.2 billion in cash reserves, but it was unprepared for this pandemic in March, and it’s still unprepared and unwilling to safely address it today.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported nine deaths due to COVID-19 and 652 more cases of the coronavirus on Thursday. Those totals have risen to 354 cumulative deaths and 15,065 cases countywide to date.

Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach announced Thursday that they would also be shutting down their beaches on Sunday. Orange County will also close its beaches.

There were 556 reported hospitalizations currently due to the disease, with 193 in intensive care.

An additional 7,001 tests were administered, taking that total to 248,028 performed from the onset of the pandemic. To date, an estimated 7,862 have recovered after contracting the virus.

Speakers at the press conference included three healthcare workers of the hospital, all of whom expressed concerns about the potential to be exposed to the virus.

Christina Rodriguez said she has worked as a respiratory therapist for Fountain Valley Regional Hospital for the past 17 years. She said an occasion arose where the hospital notified her that she had potentially been exposed to COVID-19, adding that the potential exposure had occurred more than two weeks prior.

“Why wouldn’t you test everybody?” Rodriguez said, calling on the hospital to show more urgency. “It doesn’t make sense. Early diagnosis and treatment options [are] seen as essential.”

Multiple caregivers noted that guidelines such as social distancing are not an option for healthcare workers, who work in close proximity with their patients and carry a high risk for exposure.

Michelle Riggins, a certified nursing assistant, speaks outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital's emergency room Thursday.
Michelle Riggins, a certified nursing assistant, speaks during a press conference outside of Fountain Valley Regional Hospital’s emergency room on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Michelle Riggins, a certified nursing assistant, said that four of the hospital’s nursing assistants have contracted the coronavirus within the last two weeks.

Additionally, Riggins commented that the hospital has fallen short in limiting risks for its patients.

“The COVID floor at Fountain Valley has a mix of COVID and non-COVID patients,” Riggins said in her prepared statement. “That is unsafe. Even more unsafe, Fountain Valley makes nursing assistants care for both COVID and non-COVID patients on the same shift. And we have to wear the same N95 mask all day, no matter who we are caring for.”

Jeremy Pineda, a registered nurse who attended the protest, said that healthcare workers are being “worked down to the bone.” He drew attention to the concern caregivers have treating COVID-19 patients and then thinking about their own families.

“I saw my dad probably once in six months, and that’s not really a great way to live, but it’s part of [the] job,” Pineda said. “If I really do carry the risk of getting sick and bringing it home, it’s a guilty conscience you don’t want to carry with you.”

Josh Jesus, a CT Tech, speaks during a press conference outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital's emergency room Thursday.
Joshua Jesus, a CT Tech with the radiology department, speaks during a press conference outside of Fountain Valley Regional Hospital’s emergency room on Thursday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Josh Jesus, who said he is a CT Tech in the radiology department at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, said he routinely comes home from work, goes into the garage to take off his clothes and heads straight into the shower.

While he says he takes an abundance of caution to keep his family safe, he thinks that testing for workers and patients is necessary for the hospital to keep its community safe.

“Last week, a hospital transporter informed management that a household member had contracted COVID-19,” Jesus said. “This worker should have been immediately tested and quarantined. Instead, management ordered the worker to stay on the job.

“Several days later, the worker began showing symptoms and is now hospitalized with COVID-19. One of my colleagues who had contact with this worker is now showing COVID symptoms. Three others who came into close contact with this worker are now self-quarantining.”

Jesus went on to say that the hospital is doing “the bare minimum” in following guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its own statement, Fountain Valley Regional Hospital said it screens every patient who enters the hospital for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms, and testing is provided based on symptoms and physician order. Employees, physicians and vendors have their temperature checked every time they enter the hospital, and if an employee needs to be tested, they are sent to a testing site.

“The safety of our patients and staff is our most important priority at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center,” the statement said. “Our practices to ensure the safety of our patients and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic are consistent with guidelines and protocols issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health.”

Hospital workers are dissatisfied with the safety protocols being implemented at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Employees also have to fill out a COVID-19-related screening questionnaire when they come to work, hospital officials said. All staff who care for COVID-19 patients are required to wear personal protective equipment. That includes face masks and face shields or goggles.

“Our physicians, nurses and other caregivers are required to change their PPE after treating a COVID-positive patient and before they begin treating a non-COVID patient, and to maintain all appropriate patient isolation protocols,” the hospital’s statement continued.

Gloria Alvarado, the executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation, and Ada Briceno, the co-president of Unite Here Local 11, a union that represents hotel, airport and food service workers, also spoke out in support of the healthcare worker demonstration.

Alvarado said she felt it was “shameful” that a hospital is not prioritizing the safety of its workers.

Briceno said that if a member of the National Union of Healthcare Workers falls ill with COVID-19, it impacts the community at large.

Rabbi Stephen Einstein of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, who said he formerly served as chairman of the board for Fountain Valley Regional Hospital, said that healthcare workers deserve to be treated as they are lauded — as heroes.

“These members of this union are doing all they can to save human life,” Einstein said. “I call upon the leadership of Fountain Valley Medical Center to do everything possible to save their lives.”

Hospital workers are dissatisfied with the safety protocols being implemented at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Here are the latest cumulative case counts and deaths for select cities:

  • Santa Ana: 3,061 cases; 95 deaths
  • Anaheim: 2,818 cases; 86 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 717 cases; 40 deaths
  • Irvine: 446 cases; 5 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 387 cases; 2 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 334 cases; 2 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 134 cases; 6 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 66 cases; 0 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/coronavirus-in-oc.

For information on getting tested, visit occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing.

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