‘We can’t do this anymore’: Burlingame skilled nursing workers overwhelmed by COVID outbreak

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Julia Prodis Sulek and Emily Deruy, Bay Area News Group, January 14 2021

BURLINGAME — Workers at the Burlingame Skilled Nursing facility pleaded for help Wednesday as a coronavirus outbreak raced through the facility over the past two weeks, with scores of employees out sick or quarantined and patients “dying every day.”

“We can’t do this anymore. We need some help,” said Roland Glover, 60, a certified nurse assistant who bathes, dresses and helps patients get to the bathroom. “It’s really bad. It’s really, really, really bad. It’s spreading all over.”

On Wednesday afternoon, employees held a vigil for those who have perished from COVID-19, which by their count is more than a dozen patients in recent weeks — a number at odds with state figures. Within the past few days, an office worker in her 40s also died from the virus, employees say. And although vaccinations among staff and patients began at the Burlingame facility several days before Christmas, the protection from the first dose doesn’t start for about two weeks and by then the outbreak had already taken hold, workers say. A number of workers, for a variety of reasons, hadn’t received the vaccine yet.

BURLINGAME, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 13: Roland Glover, a certified nursing assistant, speaks about working conditions while outside of Burlingame Skilled Nursing in Burlingame, Calif., on Wednesday, January 13, 2021. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

As coronavirus cases surge across California — with more than 16,775 active cases at nursing homes and residential care facilities statewide — Bay Area care facilities that were hit hard early in the pandemic are experiencing new outbreaks.

Bay View Rehabilitation Hospital in Alameda County has 78 active cases, while St. Francis Convalescent Pavilion in Daly City, Valley House Rehabilitation in Santa Clara County and Driftwood Healthcare Center in Santa Cruz all have 34 active cases, according to numbers released Monday by the California Department of Public Health.

California’s nursing facilities have been at the center of the coronavirus tragedy from the start: Residents and staff at these homes make up about a third of the state’s 31,100 coronavirus-related deaths.

On Wednesday, more than a dozen workers stood outside the Burlingame Skilled Nursing facility, many in brightly colored scrubs, and described through tears the terror and exhaustion of recent days. Reynafe Mosquera, a licensed vocational nurse, said the facility’s management has limited their interaction to Zoom meetings with supervisors. “They need to see what’s going on,” she said, through tears.

Glover says he lives with his four grandkids in a small house and is worried about bringing the virus home. “It’s getting worse every day.”

“I don’t want to get sick,” he said. “I don’t want to die early.”

The workers, who are represented by union AFSCME 57, have pointed to the outbreak as part of what they say is a broader, long-term problem with low staffing levels and low wages. Glover, for example, said he has worked at Burlingame Skilled Nursing for seven years and makes $22.48 an hour. The union said it has been in contract bargaining negotiations with parent company Brius — the largest for-profit nursing home operator in California — for months.

Management at the 280-bed Burlingame skilled-nursing facility did not return calls Wednesday to verify numbers of cases or discuss the outbreak.

Employees say, however, that their COVID ward on the second floor called “the red zone” holds more than 100 patients and is full. They also say that roughly half of the 180 staff members are sick or quarantined since the outbreak began in December, leaving them severely shorthanded.

According to state data tabulated Monday, however, the number of infected patients is far lower, with 33 active cases among residents and 30 among health care workers. Over the course of the pandemic, 152 residents and 47 health care workers have tested positive and 13 patients have died, according to the state.

Some members of the National Guard have come to assist with shuttling trays of food to patients in the COVID ward, but workers there said it wasn’t enough.

Glover, the nursing assistant, normally cares for 10 or 11 patients at a time, but on Wednesday was helping 24. He said he has had to skip showering patients and his own lunches to scrape by.. “There’s a lot of patients calling for help now that I can’t attend to,” he said. “My body’s giving up, but this is my job. This is my duty.”