Union Says 124 Hospital Workers Sent Home Because of UC Davis Coronavirus Patient

A view of UC Davis Medical Center on Feb. 27, 2020 in Sacramento, California. A Solano County, California resident who is the first confirmed case of the Coronavirus COVID-19 that was "community acquired" has been held in isolation there while undergoing treatment. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The nation's largest union of registered nurses says hospitals are not prepared for an outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Since a COVID-19 patient was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center on Feb. 19, National Nurses United says, 124 nurses and health care workers who were at high risk of having been exposed to the coronavirus were told by the hospital to quarantine themselves at home, which they have complied with.

(Update March 2: UC Davis Medical Center disputed that number Monday, but declined to provide a confirmed figure.)

The workers are being paid during this period.

 “Nurses view the handling of this COVID-19 case as a system failure and not a success,” the union said in a statement.

Sponsored

UC Davis Medical Center said earlier this week that it was days before it diagnosed the patient as having the coronavirus because the patient didn't initially meet the CDC's criteria for being given the test.

The CDC on Friday disputed the hospital's account.

The union says nurses working for University of California medical centers started meeting with administrators in late January to “notify them about the urgency to prepare for coronavirus,” and later wrote to UC system president Janet Napolitano, demanding increased protections for staff and patients. According to the union, eight days before the coronavirus patient was admitted to UC Davis Medical Center, nurses asked hospital management "to institute infection control plans that already existed and had been in place during the 2014 ebola outbreak.” The union alleges the hospital did not comply with the requests.

A spokesperson for UC Davis Health, Pamela Wu, said in an email that the hospital “will not be commenting” on the nurses’ accusations, “as we are busy caring for patients.”

The California Nurses Association, an affiliate of Nurses United, said its members continue to worry that not enough is being done to ensure their safety.

“Nurses are concerned that their facilities are not protecting them, so that they can adequately care for their patients. If the nurses aren't safe, the patients aren't safe,” said Patricia Gonzalez of CNA.

The nurses say they need more personal protective items like masks, gloves, and gowns, as well as practice using that equipment.

A spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, Jan Emerson-Shea, says these kinds of practice scenarios are part of hospitals’ routine operation. Hospitals in the state are required to complete biannual training to ensure they are prepared for a variety of natural disasters including wildfires, earthquakes, and disease outbreaks, she said, under guidelines from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

A report from Bay Area News Group Friday on the second case of community transmission in Northern California cited similar concerns about a lack of equipment from an unidentified nurse at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, where the patient is reportedly being treated.

“We’re in Silicon Valley, the richest economy in the world and we don’t have enough N 95 masks,” the nurse told the paper. “It’s insanity. Everybody is worried about it. I’m just worried about containment. It’s so contagious.

At a press conference Thursday, representatives from San Francisco General Hospital, Sutter Health Affiliates, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, and Kaiser Permanente said that their facilities are prepared to treat patients with COVID-19.

"The new suspected cases of community-spread infections are “not terribly unexpected but, it wasn't clear when we would hear about it,” said Lisa Winston, a hospital epidemiologist for UCSF and San Francisco General.

Hospitals say they are keeping a close watch on guidelines and advisories released by local, state and federal public health agencies, and are monitoring their inventories to make sure they have enough medical supplies to address a potential outbreak.

But National Nurses United says an ongoing survey of more than 1,000 California members has found only 73% of nurses reporting access to N95 respirators in their units; only 27% saying their hospital had a plan to isolate patients suspected of being infected with COVID-19; and 47% not knowing if their facility had a plan in place.

Jon Brooks contributed to this post.