Mercy Employees Seek Transparency, Human Kindness, Amid COVID Crisis

Early in the COVID-19 crisis Mercy Medical Center posted signs of appreciation for its staff outside. Photo by Steve DuBois.

As Shasta County’s COVID-19 numbers continue to climb, some Mercy Medical Center employees question whether the Redding hospital’s “Human Kindness” slogan extends to its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within one week – since June 29 – Shasta County has seen 49 new COVID-19 cases. This surge has led to heightened concerns among some Mercy Medical Center employees who feel increasingly alarmed by what they characterize as administration’s lack of  transparency — both inside and outside the hospital — something they say is especially essential during a pandemic.

On their quest for information about what’s happening inside the hospital with regard to COVID-19, some Mercy Medical employees search for answers via the hospital grapevine and social media. They believe this information should not be sought outside their workplace, but rather, be freely dispersed by the hospital leadership team in the spirit of promoting employee safety, morale and peace of mind.

ANC emailed Dignity Health’s Redding spokesperson one week ago seeking comment and corroboration regarding information provided by hospital staff about COVID-19-related issues at Mercy Medical Center. The spokesperson has not responded.

The weekly Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency media briefing would have provided an opportunity to pose questions to Robert Folden, chief operations officer for Mercy Medical Center, but he was absent from the most recent call.

Mercy Medical Center is one of three hospitals under the umbrella of Dignity Health North State. The other two hospitals within the Dignity Health North State group are St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Red Bluff, and Mercy Mt. Shasta in Mt. Shasta.

Click here to see ANC’s emailed questions.

Below is a partial list of growing concerns expressed by some Mercy Medical Center employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity:

  • At least six Mercy Medical Center staff members — including at least two physicians — have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last few weeks.
  • Reports of at least 10 COVID-19 positive Mercy Medical Center patients.
  • Questions about whether patients, especially pre-op patients, are being informed about the number of Mercy Medical Center COVID-19 infected staff.
  • A disturbing incident that involved one trauma patient who was recently hospitalized for a number of days and subsequently treated by a variety of Mercy staff and departments before it was determined the patient was COVID-19 positive, putting the uninformed staff and their families at risk. The condition of that COVID-19 positive trauma patient is unknown.
  • Reports of possible PPE shortages, including face shields and goggles that are required in some departments, but not provided by the hospital. Some employees have scrambled to comply with the new requirements by ordering additional PPE on Amazon.
  • At least one Mercy employee discovered a patient’s positive COVID-19 status only after reading the patient’s chart, days following the employee’s contact with the infected patient. The staff member would not have learned of the infected patient if not for the information she inadvertently read on the chart.
  • Concerns that although the hospital’s policy is to test pre-op patients for the virus, other non-surgical patients are not tested upon admission. Instead, non-surgical patients are screened for obvious coronavirus symptoms, which would not positively identify asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, leaving staff at risk for contracting and spreading the disease.
  • Clarification about the status of a particular Mercy Medical Center employee who visited a now-closed Redding establishment whose employees may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
  • A tented COVID-19 testing area that was previously located outside has been moved inside to the Emergency Department because of the hot summer temperatures. This assessment area has chairs that are the requisite six feet apart, but PPE is not standardized, and healthcare workers wear a variety of protective equipment, from simple paper masks and gloves, to no gloves, as they go from patient to patient taking vitals to check for the virus. This situation prompted one employee to ask, “How is that safe!?”

One Mercy Medical Center employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity expressed frustration that staff, patients and North State citizens alike are being kept needlessly in the dark with regard to valuable public-health information.

“People should know what is going on inside the hospital,” the Mercy employee said.

That employee predicted that some staff may err on the side of caution and eventually choose to stay home if they feel they’re being given insufficient information about COVID-19 infections inside the hospital; information that would allow staff the opportunity to make informed personal-safety decisions.

A look at the hospital’s website provide’s the facility’s official COVID-19 statement: At Dignity Health, challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic reinforce our commitment to caring for all. The safety of our visitors, patients, local communities, employees, and physicians remains our highest priority. 

Mercy Medical Center and Facebook

On June 27  Mercy Medical Center posted information on its Facebook page about changes to its visitor policy inside its 267-bed facility.

Mercy Medical Center Redding (Redding, CA)
June 27 at 7:07 PM ·
Visitor restriction change:
Cases of COVID-19 continue to increase around the country, and in California. Mercy Medical Center Redding’s top priority has, and will always be, protecting our patients and staff. Out of an abundance of caution for our patients and staff, we are again restricting all visitation (with limited exceptions) effective immediately.

To comply with CDC recommendations all employees will be masked while in the hospital, and face shields will be worn while caring for patients. If medically appropriate, all patients will be masked while they are being transported or during patient care activities, unless their medical condition prevents wearing a mask.

Our circumstances are changing as communities reopen, but the virus has not changed – please remember to exercise caution and practice health safety by washing your hands often, wearing a mask, staying home when sick, and avoid touching your face.
We appreciate your understanding and patience.

On the hospital’s Facebook page, readers posted questions and comments, such as whether the hospital has an active COVID-19 outbreak, and how many employees had tested positive; questions that were not answered online by hospital personnel as of Sunday night.

One commenter on Mercy Medical Center’s Facebook page claimed she’d had surgery at Mercy Medical Center in mid-June, and to her knowledge she’d not been tested for COVID-19, nor was spoken to by any hospital staff about the virus. However, she said she was asked whether she had a fever or a cough.

“Some people in the community are starting to ask good questions,” one Mercy employee said. “Unfortunately, they are being given the wrong answers.”

One Mercy employee expressed cynicism about the hospital’s recently revised visitors-policy update, and speculated that perhaps the statement’s timing coincided with the infected trauma patient.

“Ratcheting down without revealing … ”

In addition to feeling cynical, some employees feel fearful, angry and resentful.

“This whole thing has been 100-percent percent mismanaged from the start,” the employee said. “Admin still is unable to verbalize where our PPE will come from when the onslaught hits.”

Another employee was flabbergasted by reports that some housekeeping staff were posted at the hospital’s front door as the first line of public contact.

Yet another Mercy colleague questioned why the hospital chose to “incentivize” COVID-19-exposed employees to take two weeks off with full pay after working with an infected co-worker. The colleague said they would have preferred hospital administration be forthcoming about the number of infected patients and co-workers, including the Mercy employee who worked at the hospital after patronizing a downtown Redding drinking establishment that closed after concerns that some employees had been exposed to the virus.

“They should disclose and apologize and test and say what measures have been taken so this never happens again,” the colleague said, referring to the trauma patient who’d tested positive for COVID-19 days after his admittance necessitated care from multiple staff members throughout the building, unaware that they were treating an infected patient.

“Mercy is keeping everything so hush hush; absolutely the wrong thing to do,” another Mercy insider said.

Meanwhile, according to another person affiliated with Mercy Medical Center, the hospital is taking increased measures to reduce the spread of the virus at its facility.

“They are tightening up PPE rules, requiring eye protection for staff, and have set up a tent for staff testing. But it looks like that is all they are going to do,” the person said.

“They are going to lose all trust with the community by behaving this way.”

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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