Visalia nursing home employees who contracted COVID-19 say they don’t feel safe returning to work

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By Nathalie Granda, ABC 7 News, May 1, 2020

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) — NOTE – The first employee has been referred to as ‘they’ throughout our story to hide their gender because they requested anonymity.

A nursing home in Visalia is a ‘hot zone’ for COVID-19.

Nearly 200 patients and employees at the Redwood Springs Healthcare Center have contracted COVID-19.

More than 20 of those have died.

Two South Valley healthcare workers who have each contracted the coronavirus themselves say they’re concerned about returning to work.

One of those employees reached out to Action News, saying despite being cleared to return to the job they don’t feel safe.

They worry that conditions are still unsafe as patients and staff at the facility continue to get sick.

“People are still getting sick, people are still getting infected,” said the employee.

The employee asked to stay anonymous, but says they were confirmed to have the coronavirus about three weeks ago.

They were cleared by the Tulare County Health Department this week, but don’t feel safe enough to return to the facility.

“I feel like they don’t have it under control. It’s still spreading,” they said.

The employee was put back on the schedule for Thursday and they let their supervisor know of their concern right away in a phone call but say nothing was done.

“All she said was – ‘Okay, well call in. That’s all you can do’.”

This comes as numerous employees claimed the number of people infected could’ve been lower if the facility had given them the proper PPE equipment sooner.

Action News received a response from Redwood Springs about the employee’s claims.

They say there isn’t a record of a staff member who contracted the virus and was cleared to return to work and who told their supervisor they felt unsafe.

However, they do say if someone felt unsafe they “would be retested for COVID-19 as well as receive one-on-one time with their supervisor to answer any questions.”

However, employees are still hesitant.

“They’re just throwing us under the bus, saying you can come back or voluntarily quit,” the employee said.

Meanwhile, another Redwood Springs employee is speaking out, saying the Tulare County Health Department cleared her to go back to work without testing her for the virus.

Marcie Thiessen says she’s tested positive twice since the beginning of April.

She’s a nurse at the facility and says her own aunt was in their care when she died from COVID-19.

Thiessen says she’s still feeling ill and is coughing.

Despite her symptoms, she claims the health department cleared her to return to work without a test because she had already passed the 14-day quarantine window, and she was put on the schedule to return to work Friday.

Thiessen says she called her personal doctor who let Redwood Springs know she cannot return due to her symptoms.

“The health department is okay with me going back in and taking care of the most vulnerable people on the planet without being tested again. I don’t think it’s okay to send people,” she says.

Thiessen says her doctor is working with the facility, but she doesn’t plan to return to work until she’s tested again and her results are negative.

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