Nurse Dies Of COVID-19, Co-Workers Say Conditions Have Not Improved

By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

It has been six months since the coronavirus was first detected in the United States, but San Francisco Bay Area nurses say many frontline workers still are not safe.

Janine Paiste-Ponder, 59, worked as a nurse at the Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland. She died July 17 after contracting the novel coronavirus. Friends, colleagues and members with the California Nurses Association believe the hospital is not doing enough to protect workers like Paiste-Ponder.

"It’s not right what they did to her, you’re making the nurses reuse masks" said Silket. "They’re killing us."

"It’s hard for some of these nurses to get the N95s, and especially the 'pappers.' There’s a huge shortage of 'pappers' which is the footed masks that we use," said Michael Hill, RN and chief nurse representative for the union. Hill said the supply of PPE has not improved since early in the pandemic, and that Sutter has had four months to come up with a solution.

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday to remember her. Friend Leslie Silket, RN and teacher at a nursing school owned by Sutter, blamed the hospital system for Paiste-Ponder's death.

In a statement, Sutter denied that there is a shortage and said that new protective equipment is supplied to every staff member. 

But Hill says that does not mean staff is receiving enough PPE, and instead of starting with complete coverage, "the hospital, in their case starts at the bottom and adds equipment as people get exposed, and that causes a problem because there is no testing unless you have symptoms."

That means that healthcare workers who are treating COVID-19 patients do not get tested on a regular basis.

The hospital system said it has to prioritize tests for workers who are showing symptoms.

Silket added nurses at Alta Bates can have as many as five COVID-positive patients at a time with no designated COVID unit, meaning they are more at risk than nurses elsewhere who might have two COVID patients each.

She said she has been warning her students, "this is the worst that it gets. I do not lie. What I do teach them is to advocate for themselves and their patients."

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