Workers demand county take over Alameda Health System as coronavirus threat intensifies

Healthcare workers with Alameda Health System demonstrated outside the emergency room at Highland Hospital on Thursday morning, raising concerns about the threat of an anticipated avalanche of coronavirus patients.  

Holding signs and chanting, the crowd of around 100 doctors, nurses and other union workers demanded the county take control of the more than a dozen hospitals and clinics operated by the healthcare company.

“We do not want to have to make the choice about who’s going to live and who’s going to die just because the people running this health system didn’t get enough equipment and didn’t prepare for a predictable disaster,” said John Pearson, an ER nurse at Highland Hospital.

Workers accused the hospital of rationing personal protective equipment. They said they've been reusing masks. Others said their colleagues have been exposed to patients with coronavirus symptoms and are now quarantined at home.

If more patients start showing up, they worry things could get ugly.

 “While we are here taking care of the community, while we are here making them money, when we get sick, they’re going to run out on us -- that’s what we know for sure,” said Mawata Kamara, a nurse at San Leandro Hospital, another Alameda Health System facility.

Highland is one of the largest hospitals in the Bay Area. It serves as a safety net for the community – a last resort for people without health insurance like homeless or undocumented people.

Rebecca Gonsalves, a senior resident physician at Highland Hospital, said the urgency that health care workers are feeling isn’t being recognized by management.

“I’m worried for my life,” she said. “I’m worried for the nurses. I’m still worried for the patients. And I don’t want to have to choose between my safety and theirs. I want us all to be safe.”

Terry Lightfoot, a spokesman for Alameda Health System, said the hospital system is “focused on trying to prepare for a significant surge in COVID-19 cases.”

“We have people working around the clock to ensure we are prepared for this health care epidemic,” he said, adding that “a pandemic is an interesting time to politicize the health care delivery in the community."

Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky