SAN JOSE, Calif. - One patient is accusing Kaiser San Jose of never telling her that she was likely exposed to coronavirus, despite assurances that doctors called all 74 patients who likely were exposed to the deadly disease on Christmas Day.
And now, that patient, Jori Buriani, as well as her husband, have now tested positive for the coronavirus, casting doubt on the truthfulness of Kaiser’s promise that the hospital did its due diligence in telling patients.
She is at least the second patient to come forward with similar allegations. And last week, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department also said Kaiser didn't alert them, as the hospital is required to do, about the Christmas Day outbreak, which has now sickened at least 73 Kaiser medical staff - up 13 from last week -- and led the death of one employee.
Buriani insists that despite being treated for a dislocated shoulder and even witnessing employees attend a small gathering in the staff lounge where the outbreak likely started, she has never received a phone call, text or email from Kaiser that she had been exposed. She learned of the outbreak on TV, nine days after her hospital visit. She learned she was positive on the 11th day.
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"Yeah, I’m furious that I had to learn of my exposure by watching the news," said Buriani, a dental hygienist, who is now off work, unpaid, for two weeks because she has coronavirus. "Don’t say you did something that you didn’t do to cover your ass."
Buriani’s accusations also raise questions about how many other patients might not have been notified and spread the disease to others.
And although she was masked, Buriani visited her doctor and two daughters over the course of the week when she unknowingly contracted the disease. Her husband went to work, too. The couple has since notified everyone they came in contact with but don’t know the results of those tests.
Requests for how many people have since contracted coronavirus, other than the known Kaiser employees, from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s contract tracing investigation were not immediately returned. To date, neither Santa Clara Couty nor Kaiser have put an exact number on the super spreader event.
Another patient, who was in the ER for seven hours on Dec. 26 and who asked to remain anonymous, also told KTVU in a prior interview that she also learned about the exposure on the news, which is what prompted her to get a test. Her test came back negative.
Citing privacy concerns, Kaiser would not specifically discuss Buriani or her allegations. In a statement, the hospital insists its doctors called 74 patients in the ER that day and that tests have been available to them.
Buriani’s allegations also come at a time when Kaiser San Jose is under fire - and facing $43,000 in fines -- from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department for not reporting the outbreak to them in a timely fashion.
County officials also said they learned of the outbreak from the news on Jan. 3, even though the hospital knew at that time that 43 employees had been initially infected between Dec. 27 and Jan. 1. The source of the outbreak is being investigated, but early reports suggest it may have started when a well-intentioned employee, who unknowingly had coronavirus, dressed up in an inflatable Christmas tree costume to cheer up her colleagues. The fan inside the costume might have spread the virus far and wide.
Even before the Christmas Day super spreader event, Kaiser has been fighting allegations and $85,350 in fines from the state stemming from workplace violations last March. According to a review of Cal-OSHA records, Kaiser San Jose is among the Top 10 violators of workplace COVID safety in California, a KTVU analysis revealed.
Kaiser San Jose denies all the allegations and is appealing each of the citations by Cal-OSHA.
In terms of the county's accusations that it failed to report the outbreak in a timely fashion, Irene Chavez, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser San Jose, stood by the hospital's reporting protocols.
"The suggestion that we are anything other than forthcoming with our reporting is inaccurate," Chavez said in a statement sent to KTVU last week. "Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the dynamically evolving need for information, Kaiser Permanente has maintained consistent communications with multiple state and local agencies regarding COVID-19 cases at our facilities. Kaiser Permanente has demonstrated consistent diligence and a continued dedication to our community’s health and well-being."
Chavez said Kaiser will formally answer the county’s allegations on Friday.
But Buriani does not believe that Kaiser was diligent, at least in her situation, which began for her on Christmas Eve, when she got up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and tripped over an unwrapped present left in the middle of the floor.
She ended up dislocating her shoulder and went to Kaiser’s ER the following morning, as the urgent care was closed. She arrived at the ER at 5:30 a.m. and wasn’t discharged until 8:50 a.m.
As far as she could see, she was the only patient there at that time. And she feels the long wait could have added to the time she was exposed to the virus.
"I just waited and waited and waited," she said. "I remember thinking, ‘Why do I have to wait so long since no one else is here?’ "
At some point, she heard an announcement on the loudspeaker about how the employees should meet in the staff lounge.
"At first I thought, ‘Oh that’s nice.’ They must be doing something nice for all those employees who have to work on a holiday, they probably brought food in," she said. "And so then I waited and waited and waited like forever. And then I thought, ‘Did all the staff go into the staff room to enjoy their party and I’m just sitting out here?' ’’
She said she never saw the employee dressed as an inflatable Christmas tree. But in retrospect, Buriani wonders why that person, who unknowingly had coronavirus, was allowed into the hospital at all.
As a dental hygienist, Buriani said it’s pretty basic to realize that the air inside such a machine has to come out somehow.
"I remember thinking, ‘the air is circulating inside that costume...there has to be a way for that air to leave that costume,’" she said. "I found it odd that Kaiser let that go on for the hour that it did, when it felt like to me, like common sense that that air has to come out."
Meanwhile, on Jan. 2, Buriani began to feel like she had a head cold. She brushed it off.
But the next night, on Jan. 3, she and her husband happened to have the TV news on in the background. They heard the newscaster’s voice tell them that 44 Kaiser employees had contracted the virus on Christmas Day.
"That Sunday when the news broke we were sitting on the couch, we had the TV on in the background and my ears picked up," she said.
When she looked up, she recognized it was her Kaiser. She quickly put the clues together: Her sniffles, the congestion and the news report about the outbreak. Buriani had been home for nine days at this point with no warning from Kaiser.
"My husband and I looked at each other," she said. "And it all kind of clicked."
She and her husband tried to get an immediate COVID test.
But they were told there were no appointments for another two days, until Jan. 5. They both got tested and both came back positive.
What's odd to her is that someone in the Kaiser system knew she had been to the ER on Christmas Day. She knows that because when she went to go get her COVID test in the drive-thru testing station, Buriani said the Kaiser technician already knew to expedite her test.
That was news to Buriani.
"That’s what is upsetting me," she said. "They knew I had been in the ER that day, they flagged my chart, they knew I was one of those patients that had been exposed. But still no phone call to me. There was no contact whatsoever. I have since gone and looked at any messages. I never had any missed calls. Nothing."
For now, Buriani and her husband are left with the symptoms of COVID and the fear that goes along with it. They are tired and congested. They have lost their sense of taste and smell. Over the weekend, her husband was too tired to speak over the weekend and just wanted to remain on the couch.
"I’m very scared because I have a history of blood clots," she said. "I have a very heavy chest, a very tight chest, so that concerns me. Because I don’t want to end up in the ER on a ventilator."
As for assigning Kaiser’s role in her illness?
"I don’t, perse, blame them for getting it," Buriani said, although she said she doesn’t think she should have had to wait in the ER for three hours on such a slow day.
But she does blame Kaiser for its role afterward, and for the hospital’s public assertions that doctors notified everyone, when at least in her case, they did not.
"I’m just upset I had to learn about it through the news because had I not I would have just assumed I had a head cold. And I would have never thought to get tested," she said. "My husband certainly wouldn’t have thought to get tested. And he would have not continued to do the grocery shopping and going to work."