SALINAS, Calif. (KION) The California Nurses Association in Salinas tells KION that at least eight perinatal department nurses at the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last few weeks.
The nurses union put KION in contact with six nurses in that department on Wednesday. Five of them told KION over the phone they were staying in quarantine right now after testing positive for the novel virus.
The CNA believes more nurses may have been exposed to the virus at the hospital.
Each of the six nurses whom KION spoke with allege SVMHS management failed to provide them with proper protections after months of pleading for more effective PPE like N95s and better screening of patients and visitors.
"I tested positive on a Saturday about ten days now, I've been in quarantine for that time," said one perinatal nurse, who spoke to KION on the condition of anonymity, but who was willing to be recorded for an interview for broadcast.
The nurses tell KION managers at the hospital blew off requests for N95s and only gave them less effective surgical masks.
"The way that they give PPE to the emergency room…they should have given it to us. Yet that was not what was happening. They just wanted us to wear surgical masks," said another perinatal nurse on Wednesday over the phone. She spoke to KION on the condition of anonymity, but was willing to be recorded for an interview for broadcast.
"We were turned down, we were told that we were, and I quote, 'freaking out.' And now I'm one of the nurses, unfortunately of many, who are positive on our floor," said the first nurse.
The nurses also claim the hospital did not do adequate enough screening of patients and visitors to the perinatal floor.
"We have a general screening which asks simple questions: have you traveled, have you been exposed, do you have a fever, do you have a cough," said the first nurse. "But I don't think they've considered that some people might not be so forthcoming with the truth."
"I cared for a patient and couple days later, I found out that the patient who, at the time had told had been through the screening and told us she had no symptoms, well unfortunately, later on it was found out that she did indeed have COVID," continued the first nurse. "I was concerned. I had a little scratchy throat. Got tested, went home and turned out to be positive."
The CNA says they are now circulating a petition to push the hospital to make changes.
Hospital officials, however, are countering some of the claims made by the nurses and the CNA. SVMHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Radner tells KION the hospital has been providing enough PPE to their employees.
Dr. Radner also says given the prevalence of the virus now, there likely isn't a medical facility in our area that does not already have at least one COVID-19 positive case.
"There isn't a hospital in the community, I'm an infectious disease specialist who works at all the hospitals, every hospital has staff that has been tested and are positive," he said. "We're not the only medical center, or again, I'd be very surprised if there's not a physician's office in Monterey County that has not had a staff member… and many I know of have multiple staff members that have developed COVID."
Radner also disputes the allegation that the nurses contracted COVID-19 in the workplace.
"I am saying very clearly that there's no clear demonstration that they've developed this infection from a patient while at work," said Dr. Radner.
The nurses dispute that claim.
"It's pretty funny that we all came up positive around the same amount of time and we all had the same complaints about not having the proper PPE," said the second nurse. "I was not around the other nurses that are positive when I got it. I don't eat in the break room, I don't hang out in the break room. I go down to the cafeteria where they keep the tables six feet apart. So I know I didn't get it from another nurse. I've taken care of COVID positive patients."
"Explain to me how I came down with this along with four of the nurses who cared for the same patient within hours of one another, all came down positive, and my family is negative." said the first nurse. "So I don't understand that. How is my family negative, I'm the only one positive when we do everything together?"
The hospital says they are doing everything according to best medical practices during this time. They are constantly updating their procedures to make sure everyone stays and healthy.
"Anytime there is a nurse or an employee or anyone in our facility that is at risk or develops an infection, we go out of our way to critically review that and improve that as much as we can," said Dr. Radner.
"We provide PPE for people, we're continually reassessing and making sure we have adequate airflow in our hospital so the environment is safe, we're continuing to educate our staff and we're functioning every single person that walks into the institution, be it a patient or visitor or staff member, has COVID. That's the only way to function at this point in time," continued Dr. Radner.
"I have frequent meetings with all of the administration as well as frequent meetings with the staff throughout the hospital, many of whom work at many institutions, we've been told from the beginning that we've provided better protection than virtually every other hospital in California," said Dr. Radner.
The CNA is also planning to hold a collective action event in the coming days.
"I just want them to open their eyes and treat us the same way they treat the ER nurses and let us use the powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), give us N95s when we feel like we need them," said the second nurse. "Whether they think we need them or not, I feel like if I'm taking care of a patient and I feel like 'I need an N95,' let me have an N95. I put my health at risk and then my family's health."