Coronavirus Outbreak: Employees speak out about working in East Bay nursing home infected by COVID-19

ABC7 San Francisco

ORINDA, Calif. (KGO) — We’re getting new accounts from workers inside an East Bay nursing home that suffered one of the earliest coronavirus outbreaks, and the battle continues there. They tell the I-Team, another patient has died after contracting COVID-19.

The staff members don’t want to use their names or show their faces, because they want to keep doing that important work. But they want you to know what they’re dealing with, and how they think patients could be better protected.

EXCLUSIVE: Owner of Orinda nursing home speaks out amid deadly coronavirus outbreak at facility

Dealing with the end of life was always part of working at Orinda Care Center or any nursing home, for that matter. But for these staff members, the rapid spread of coronavirus and its devastating effects are especially tough to witness.

They tell us a sixth patient has died, after contracting COVID-19.

Worker 1: “I’ve seen the negative people go to positive and I know that it shouldn’t have been like that.”

Worker 2: “How could all the residents get infected when they’re not moving? They’re not leaving out of their rooms. They’re not going nowhere.”

Dan Noyes: “So, you’re saying it was the employees who were spreading it.”

Worker 2: “Yeah, I believe it was the employees who were spreading it.”

They say all but one of the remaining 30 patients have contracted coronavirus, and more than two dozen staff have been infected.

Signs inside the nursing home how a bathroom is reserved for negative staff, and COVID-19 positive staff have to go to a different floor. The workers tell the I-Team, some of the staff are not taking proper precautions.

Worker 1: “I don’t want to work with the positive workers who are being irresponsible, not wearing gear, walking around with no PPE.”

Dan Noyes: “Is that happening?”

Worker 1: “Yes, and I don’t want to catch it.”

The workers tell us they’ve been instructed to reuse personal protective equipment because of a shortage, but that managers aren’t consistently enforcing mask usage.

Worker 2: “They told us we gotta keep them, so this is just from yesterday.”

Dan Noyes: “And you use them again and again?”

Worker 2: “Yes, sir.”

Proper training and adequate staffing are very important to infection control, but records show violations at Orinda Care Center:

August of last year, the California Department of Public Health found they failed to meet minimum staffing requirements on 16 of 24 days checked.
In July, the state cited Orinda Care for failing to properly sanitize tableware and cookware, putting the residents at risk of food-borne illness, and for misuse of anti-psychotic drugs.
In May, an investigation found the facility failed to keep a resident with dementia safe from sexual abuse by a housekeeper, who had two previous complaints of sexual abuse.

In our interview two weeks ago, Orinda Care owner Crystal Solarzano called those incidents “unacceptable, but isolated” and said they’re doing all they can to ensure it won’t happen again.

Dan Noyes: “Right now, would you put your own family member in your facilities?”

Crystal Solorzano: “Without a doubt.

Solorzano owns eleven nursing homes, but in December, she had three license applications for new homes denied because the state concluded that violations at her current properties posed “immediate jeopardy” for residents.

Dan Noyes: “What is going on? How are your clients in immediate jeopardy in those homes?”

Crystal Solorzano: “There’s a lot of things that I would like to speak about. And when the time is right, Dan, you’re going to be the first one to talk with me about them.”

Solorzano shared a video with us, of her addressing staff at Orinda Care.

Crystal Solorzano: “I promise you, when we get through this, I’m going to take care of you all, I promise you.”

Dan Noyes: “Do you believe that?”

Worker 2: “Only thing I got from her was a box of chocolates. I was promised 50 dollars a day work, and food, haven’t received that.”

The workers provided text messages they say came from an Orinda Care supervisor saying they were offered an extra $50 a day in hazard pay to work with coronavirus patients. A text one week later stated the hazard pay was canceled.

Dan Noyes: “Why not walk away from this?”

Worker 1: “It’s hard for me to leave the patients, because I build relationships with a lot of them. It’s hard to just give up on them.”

We called and texted Crystal Solorzano to comment on the new complaints from these workers, and she did not respond. In the first interview, she told us she’s working with Contra Costa County to provide PPE to her workers and to train them on its proper use.

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