COVID-19 fear, labor strife among staff at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, 17 infected

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- Visitors at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital answer questions about their health and get their temperatures checked, but these measures have not kept COVID-19 from getting inside.

In the past few weeks the virus has infected 17 nurses and technicians.

Hospital CEO Tyler Hedden says management has been working diligently to prevent spread.

"What we know now is it is under control and we are on the right path," he said.

Measures include regular staff meetings and constant awareness.

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However, staff members insist that the hospital could have done better.

"In my case I was exposed to two patients and we didn't know they had it. Now I have headaches, itchiness in my throat, pain in my ears and fatigue," said nursing assistant Diana Luna-Miranda, who tested positive this week.

Luna-Miranda works in a medical surgical unit where the concentration of infections began at least two weeks ago.

Staffers told ABC7 News today that the hospital should have communicated better, and tested them earlier.

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"They are testing us now," said Florie Bennion, a nursing assistant who works on the unit.

"When did that begin?" ABC7's Wayne Freedman asked.

"Last week," Bennion said.

The outbreak began at the beginning of August.

The present tension comes against the backdrop of a prolonged union negotiation.

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It has left support staff, including nursing assistants, without contracts for more than a year.

During a one week strike in July, they made a point of asking for better protective measures. "We have hospital patients cleaning COVID patients' rooms and they are being denied essential PPE," said anesthesia technician Steven Batson last July.

Santa Rosa Memorial insists that it remains safe for both patients and workers.

As for those 17 cases?

"We know there are other hospitals that have had similar outbreaks," said CEO Hedden. "We are not alone in this battle. We know it is an infectious disease."

Both sides can agree about that.

"We are all worried," Bennion said. "We are concerned that we can take this home to our families, our parents, our children."

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