Oakland nurse dies from COVID-19, colleagues call for better protections

Nurses at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland mourned the loss of a colleague who died from the coronavirus last week, as they called on the hospital to do more to protect them from getting infected.

Janine Paiste-Ponder died on Friday. She was remembered as a compassionate, dedicated, and exceptional nurse with a great sense of humor, who was always willing to help.

"She was our friend, she was our sister, she was our coworker. And I can’t believe she is gone,” said Paiste-Ponder’s colleague, Toya Randle, a registered nurse.

Randle herself recently tested positive. She said that she and Paiste-Ponder worked together in the medical/surgical unit, where nurses were sometimes assigned to five patients at once, some who had tested positive for COVID-19.

"They would then have to change into and out of the same personal protective equipment (PPE) in one shift, as they alternated between patients, not knowing whether they were exposed along the way," the California Nurses Association (CNA) said in a press release. 

"When Janine signed up to care for her patients at Summit, she did not sign up to sacrifice her life." The CNA said and called on the hospital to equip nurses with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe, along with easy access to testing. 

The CNA said that Summit nurses reported a hospital policy of only testing nurses who were symptomatic, even if they have had known exposure to the virus.

Randle said that she had been exposed to a patient who tested positive, yet she was not given a test until she lost her sense of smell and taste, a common symptom among COVID-19 patients.

Her positive test result came back last Wednesday. And then two days later, she said her friend and colleague died from the disease. "All the nurses have been pleading and expressing their fears of what could happen. It falls on deaf ears,” Randle said.

A spokesperson for Sutter Health said, "When caring for suspected or known COVID-19 positive patients, staff are supplied with new N-95 masks along with other appropriate PPE. Our supply is adequate to meet demand at this time."  Sutter Health said their COVID-19 testing polices are in line with state and local officials. 

On Tuesday, the CNA was planning to hold a vigil on the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center campus in Oakland to honor Paiste-Ponder.

“I just want Summit to know that they lost an amazing nurse," Randle said. "She was a loving wife, a loving mother."

KTVU's Jana Katsuyama contributed to this report. 

Janine Paiste-Ponder, a nurse at Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland died of COVID 19 on July 17, 2020. Her colleagues mourned her death and called for better protections from the hosital.