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Healthcare workers at embattled Fountain Valley Regional Hospital demand COVID-19 tests

Irene Santos and Matthew Rodriguez look at a photograph of their father, Armando Rodriguez, who died of COVID-19.
Irene Santos, left, and Matthew Rodriguez look at a photograph of their father, Armando Rodriguez, a Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center employee who died of COVID-19 earlier this month, during a rally demanding stronger COVID-19 protections for caregivers and patients.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Employees of Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center called Armando Rodriguez the “Candyman,” because whenever the imaging aide walked the hallways, he’d pass out sweets to friends, coworkers and people he’d meet.

“My father loved working at Fountain Valley Hospital,” daughter Irene Santos recalled Monday. “He loved his coworkers.”

Rodriguez’s upbeat attitude and can-do spirit endured even after the coronavirus pandemic hit. When his brother and two young grandsons tested positive for the virus in July, Rodriguez reported his possible exposure to hospital managers and was allegedly told to wear a mask and monitor for symptoms, according to Santos.

Rodriguez continued to report for duty, possibly exposing other employees to the virus, before he began showing symptoms. Santos said her father was once asked to wipe down an MRI machine used on a COVID-19 patient that should have undergone thorough disinfection.

“Fountain Valley [Hospital] should never have told him to come to work and put his coworkers at risk and put patients at risk,” she said. “They should have quarantined him and told him to get tested.”

Irene Santos wipes a tear away during a rally demanding stronger COVID-19 protections for caregivers and patients.
Irene Santos wipes a tear away during a rally demanding stronger COVID-19 protections for caregivers and patients at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Though it’s unclear whether Rodriguez contracted the coronavirus through his exposure at work or in his household, the Santa Ana resident was admitted to the hospital multiple times throughout the months that followed.

Despite a valiant fight, Rodriguez succumbed to COVID-19 on Nov. 6. He was 65.

In a rally Monday outside Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center, Santos and her father’s colleagues — in an effort organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers — beseeched hospital leaders to test exposed employees and all incoming patients to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Protesters gathered Saturday at Huntington Beach Pier in defiance of the state’s coronavirus curfew that went into effect at 10 p.m.

“I’m proud to stand here with my father’s coworkers and support their call for more COVID testing for both caregivers and patients,” Santos told a crowd of nearly 100 people. “My hope is that Fountain Valley Regional Hospital starts taking COVID-19 as seriously as my family does.”

Monday’s was the latest of several demonstrations held at the Fountain Valley facility, owned by Tenet Healthcare and the focus of a survey conducted in July by the California Department of Public Health Department and federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services in response to a NUHW complaint.

That survey determined the site put caregivers and patients at risk by scattering COVID-19 patients throughout the facility and assigning staff to treat infected and uninfected patients. Hospital officials were required to prepare and present a plan of correction to address the findings.

While NUHW members and employees consider the intervention a victory, they are still pushing for all newly admitted patients and potentially exposed employees to be tested for COVID-19. Union leaders also want healthcare workers to be routinely tested.

“Even though Fountain Valley has made some improvements in response to the state’s investigation, it is still not doing nearly enough to protect its employees or patients from COVID-19,” distribution technician Justin Evans said Monday via loudspeaker.

“We live in a world where professional athletes are tested every day for COVID while healthcare workers treating patients aren’t tested at all.”

As Orange County set a new record Monday for 1,422 new infections in a single day, Newport-Mesa teachers urged officials to return middle and high schools to distance learning after Thanksgiving break.

Tenet Healthcare spokesman Todd Burke said Tuesday that the hospital continues to follow guidelines issued by the state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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,” Burke said by email. “Testing of patients is provided based on symptoms and physician orders. If an employee is symptomatic, we follow the CDC’s return-to-work guidance for testing.”

Workers demand stronger COVID-19 protections for caregivers and patients at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital.
Workers gather for a rally demanding stronger COVID-19 protections for caregivers and patients at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital & Medical Center.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

For certified nursing assistant Mailinh Nguyen, however, more regular testing needs to be done to keep patients and workers safe. Nguyen was exposed to the virus in late July, after sitting with a patient who later tested positive, and was told to keep working and monitor symptoms.

She later quarantined for weeks, staying with a cousin and in motel rooms to keep from potentially exposing her aging parents.

“The only thing we ask for is that all employees need to get tested — that’s all,” she said.

The latest maps and charts on the spread of COVID-19 in Orange County, including cases, deaths, closures and restrictions.

On Tuesday — one day after county officials reported a record 1,422 daily infections — the Orange County Health Care Agency reported another 837 new cases and two deaths, for a countywide total of 71,953 cases and 1,556 fatalities.

The seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents jumped Tuesday from 10.8 to 17.2, while Orange County’s seven-day average testing positivity rate also jumped, from 4.8% to 6.8%, with 12, 251 tests issued.

A reported 463 residents were being treated in area hospitals, a 27% increase in the three-day average of hospitalizations, with 116 in intensive care units. About 28% of Orange County ICU beds remained available Tuesday.

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 13,752 cases; 324 deaths
  • Anaheim: 12,184 cases; 339 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 3,108 cases; 88 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 2,438 cases; 45 deaths
  • Irvine: 2,459 cases; 14 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,417 cases; 26 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 761 cases; 21 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 305 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 5,706 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 10,618 cases; four deaths
  • 25 to 34: 15,368 cases; 21 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 11,430 cases; 41 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 11,635 cases; 119 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 8,676 cases; 215 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 4,398 cases; 304 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 2,321 cases; 338 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,753 cases; 513 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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