Coronavirus crisis: San Jose's Regional Medical Center responds to union accusations while battling COVID-19

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Nearly two months after the first novel coronavirus case was confirmed in the Bay Area, hospitals and healthcare professionals are being tested in ways they've never been when it comes to safety and personal protective equipment (PPE).

"These are some of our most vulnerable patients at some of the most vulnerable times of their lives," said Tomi Ryba, president and CEO of Regional Medical Center in San Jose. "I know they're in good hands, but it's also unpredictable."

Regional has cared for more than a quarter of the nearly 1,600 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Santa Clara County since the outbreak began.

"I know that I'm going to have patients who are sick, who cannot breathe, and that is my job," said Randy Nguyen, a long-time respiratory therapist at the hospital. "I'll do whatever it takes to help my patient get better."

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The staff has had to deal with more hospitalizations in comparison to other Bay Area facilities. One factor is Regional's location in East San Jose, which has a more diverse and vulnerable population. Another is the hospital's reputation for delivering quality care.

"We care so much and we want so badly to make people better, so the fact that we can't just simply give them a medicine or give them some sort of care that will for sure make them better... it's hard," said Regional registered nurse Casey Caruso.

However, the California Nurses Association says Regional isn't doing enough to protect some of its employees. Union representatives are concerned about the patient to staff ratio in the ICU and are also worried about nurses having to re-use certain PPE such as N-95 respirators.

RELATED: Nurses, healthcare workers concerned about their safety as COVID-19 cases rise

ABC7 News took their concerns to hospital officials who insisted they were following CDC recommendations and guidelines. However, executives were quick to admit they're also learning as they go, because of the complexities of COVID-19, but adamant they would never compromise safety, especially with the danger of the disease on display each time a staff member walks through the ICU.

"What you take from it... is you take from it hope that many of them will be successfully removed from a ventilator, and each time that happens, it's like a personal victory for everyone," said Ryba.

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