Orange County Hospital Workers Demand More Testing for Staff

November 24, 2020 Updated: November 24, 2020

FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. (CNS)—Health care workers from three area hospitals held a rally Nov. 23 calling for more access to COVID-19 tests amid a steady rise in patients with the disease streaming into the medical centers.

“Honestly, I’m scared, not only me, but a lot of my coworkers are scared of working at the hospital right now,” said Mailinh Nguyen, a certified nurses assistant at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital. “Because all we’re asking for is for our employees to be tested and it’s not happening.”

Nguyen, who has worked at the hospital for six years, joined dozens of other health care workers, some from Los Alamitos Medical Center and Lakewood Medical Center, in front of the Fountain Valley hospital.

The rally was spurred by the recent death of a radiology technician at Fountain  Valley.

Nguyen said she was exposed in mid-June to a patient who later tested positive for COVID-19, but she did not get infected.

“The next day the manager of that unit told me, ‘You were exposed to positive patients,’ so I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ And she told me to keep working and monitor for symptoms and if I have any symptoms to go to [the employee health department] and tell them,” she said.

Later, after a meeting with union representatives and hospital officials, they put Nguyen in quarantine, she said.

When she asked for a test she was directed to public health sites, she said.

Conditions have improved with more personal protective equipment (PPE) and other issues related to caring for COVID-19 patients since the health care workers complained to the state, which stepped in and required multiple corrections, she said.

“Right now, yes, the hospital is doing good in PPE,” she said, adding that in the past staff was told to clean PPE and keep using it.

Todd Burke, a spokesman for the hospital, said, “We continue to follow the guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] to protect the health and safety of our patients and staff during this unprecedented pandemic.”

Burke said in the summer, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) surveyed the hospital and “identified findings requiring corrective action by the hospital. We took swift action to address these items and received confirmation from CMS that we are in compliance with the conditions of participation. Fountain Valley’s CMS certification continued uninterrupted during the survey process.”

The hospital follows the CDC’s “return-to-work guidance for testing” of employees, Burke said.

Orange County officials have two “super sites” for testing in Anaheim and Costa Mesa that they say are nowhere near capacity. Officials want to add lanes to speed up wait times. The sites offer testing for no charge, regardless of whether a recipient has health insurance, and results are available within a day.

“People who really want to get tested at this point, there’s no excuse to not get tested,” said Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. “We offer so many options to get tested throughout the county with drive-thru, pop-up, public, and private sector.”

Fountain Valley Hospital officials extended condolences to the staffer who died.

“Our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time,” Burke said.

Union officials said the staffer who died Nov. 6 was a radiology technician who was told to return to work despite several family members being infected with COVID-19.

Nguyen said hospital workers have experienced the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

“In the COVID unit a couple of days ago it was low, three or four patients, and now it’s up to 21, 22 patients,” she said.