Speaking out

Editor’s note: The employee’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

GLOVERSVILLE — An employee of the Fulton Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare where 27 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus says residents and staff members are receiving insufficient protections, causing residents to suffer and staff members to walk off the job.

The employee who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for retribution, worked at the Fulton Center for 10 years as a certified nursing assistant before walking off the job on Friday morning after being asked to work with residents who tested positive for the coronavirus supplied with a used N-95 mask that she said was smeared with someone else’s makeup.

“We have to use the same N-95 masks for weeks and weeks and weeks. That is not OK,” the staff member said becoming emotional.

The employee said she normally works in different areas of the facility and when she was asked to work in an area known to house residents positive with the coronavirus she was willing to do so if she was given appropriate personal protective equipment. After receiving a soiled mask and no isolation gown, she said she had enough and told supervisors at the end of her shift she would not be returning.

“I can’t properly take care of these people if they’re not giving me the equipment to do it with,” she said. “So, I told them I’m not coming back. It hurts my feelings because those people have nobody to take care of them. But I don’t know what to do … I love taking care of people, but I’m one person.”

That was just a day after the CNA said she worked on a unit with 42 patients by herself for 24 hours, because other staff members failed to show up due to the poor conditions. The employee estimated nearly half of the staff members have walked off the job due to insufficient PPE and a lack of testing for the coronavirus among staff members despite the confirmed presence of the coronavirus among residents.

The Fulton County Public Health Department in a press release this week announced 27 residents of the Fulton Center are confirmed to have the coronavirus. The staff member said only 40 residents out of roughly 166 were tested and no employees were tested for the virus. Two employees sought testing independently after developing symptoms and were confirmed to have the virus, the staff member said. But she said many more residents and staff members are showing symptoms.

“We have many people running temperatures for days upon days upon days and no testing being done,” the employee said. “That entire C [wing] that holds 42 residents, I’m telling you probably 42 out of 42 are positive, that’s how bad it is.”

After initial testing results revealed the presence of at least one resident in three out of four wings of the facility with the coronavirus, the staff member said confirmed cases were moved into the A wing where rehab patients are normally housed. The A wing was the area of the building where no residents had the virus, but she said that section has sealed double doors that administrators planned to use to isolate residents with the virus.

“It made no sense to do what they did,” she said. “Now the whole place is COVID.”

As staff members in all positions from nurses to housekeepers to kitchen staff leave, the employee said residents are receiving insufficient care, left for long stretches in soiled clothes and bedding while the facility goes uncleaned.

“It’s disgusting and these people aren’t going to get better, because they’re not taking care of them,” she said.

The employee pointed to the likelihood of more overwhelmed staff members walking off the job in the coming days, saying that those who stay are afraid of taking the virus home to their families due to the lack of PPE.

“Of course the staff members are going to get it, there’s no PPE,” she said. “I’m deathly afraid. I haven’t seen my grandchildren in forever.”

The staff member said she took every precaution she could when returning from work removing her work clothes and shoes in a sun porch to avoid bringing possibly contaminated materials into her home and immediately taking a shower to prevent possible exposure to the virus for her significant other. But she suspects she may have the virus after she began feeling unwell on Friday and now plans to try to get tested.

“At this point it would be a very smart idea to get tested,” she said.

But the employee said her biggest concern is for the residents, mostly elderly people with underlying health conditions who health experts say are at the greatest risk from the coronavirus.

“What I’m hoping will happen is this will get out there and the public will find out they need help,” she said. “Those people, they don’t ask to be sick, they pay $15,000 a month and can’t be taken care of.”

“What really hurts me is the lack of love for human life,” the employee said, questioning inaction from the Fulton Center to contact outside agencies for support caring for residents and securing PPE for staff members.

A spokesperson for the Fulton Center responding to a request for comment regarding the issues raised by the staff member returned a prepared statement that did not address claims that staff members have been walking off the job due to poor conditions leaving residents with insufficient care.

The statement reads, “The staff at Fulton Center have been in full PPE since early March as per the guidelines set out by the N.Y. state Department of Health and the CDC. Also, the facility follows the guidelines per the CDC regarding to extended usage of PPE.”

The statement included guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on extended facemask use or “wearing the same facemask for repeated close contact encounters with several different patients, without removing the facemask between patient encounters.”

The included guidelines state face masks should be removed and discarded if soiled, damaged or hard to breathe in. The spokesperson’s statement did not address claims that employees are reusing face masks over multiple days that have previously been worn by other staff members.

The statement continues, “all employees are screened before entering their work area, their temperature is taken and if they demonstrate any signs of a cold, cough and or flush, they are questioned and then turned away to go home. As per policy, all employees are given locations throughout Fulton County and nearby counties where to be tested and then must bring proof that they have been tested. If tested positive, employees are then to follow the 14-day period of quarantine/isolation per DOH/CDC protocol about when it is safe to return to work.”

By Paul Wager

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