An Oakland nurse who cared for COVID-19 patients died after contracting the disease, becoming one of more than 100 California health care workers who have lost their lives due to the coronavirus.
Janine Paiste-Ponder, 59, who worked as a nurse at Sutter Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, died on July 17, a press release from the California Nurses Association said Tuesday. Her passing was also confirmed by the Alameda County coroner. She was a member of the union for more than 25 years.
“She took care of our patients and she died doing it,” said Adetola Akindele, the supervising nurse on Paiste-Ponder’s unit who worked with her for 15 years.
Paiste-Ponder leaves behind a husband and two children, fellow nurses said.
Colleagues planned to remember the nurse at a vigil Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the hospital. They will also call upon management to make changes to protect staff, including separating negative and positive COVID-19 patients on different units, providing more personal protective equipment, and testing asymptomatic employees. Some Bay Area health care workers said Paiste-Ponder’s death reflects the reasons behind their ongoing protests for more protection.
“All the nurses have been pleading and expressing their fears of what could happen,” said Toya Randle, a nurse who worked with Paiste-Ponder for two decades and also tested positive. “It falls on deaf ears.”
My best friend is a doctor at a hospital where they’ve had a #Covid outbreak among staff. It claimed the life of Janine Paiste Ponder. Janine was a nurse who took care of my mom when she was dying & I remember how kind she was
Rest In Peace Janine. Thank you for being a hero pic.twitter.com/oHdCErz8Yi
— Veronica De La Cruz (@VeronicaDLCruz) July 20, 2020
Sutter Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Paiste-Ponder worked on the hospital’s medical/surgical unit. She was assigned five patients at once, including positive and non-positive patients, while changing in and out of the same protective equipment, fellow nurses said. The number of COVID-19 patients has been rising, nurses said, prompting workers to get tested on their own. The union said the hospital has a policy of testing only symptomatic nurses. This is similar to other medical facilities.
Paiste-Ponder let her colleagues know she tested positive on Monday, July 13. By Thursday, she was admitted to the hospital. She died on Friday.
Paiste-Ponder attended the Church of Christ in San Leandro, which posted on its Facebook page that they grieved her death together during Sunday worship.
“She was a godly woman and a loving woman as you can tell by her co-workers, and a fighter. That was my mom, just putting herself before others,” said Dominique Paiste-Ponder, her elder daughter.
Paula Lyn, a nurse at the hospital and board member of the California Nurses Association, said other nurses are left wondering whether they’ll be next.
“I feel an injury to one is an injury to all and it could have been any one of us. The part that is so sad is that all of us are susceptible to this,” she said. “I believe nurses are stressed. They’re tired. They’re frustrated. They’re scared.”
Lyn wanted the hospital to create a separate COVID-19 unit, provide N95 masks for all nurses, and test employees regularly.
“We need to make sure that we have optimal protection and testing so that we can save the rest of the nurses there at Summit,” she said.
Nurses’ concerns are not unique to Summit. Also on Tuesday, San Jose nurses spoke at a Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting to protest what they perceived as a lack of employee testing at Good Samaritan Hospital and Regional Medical Center.
Half a dozen nurses said they, or their colleagues, had not been tested or sent home when they felt they had been exposed. Some said they were scared to go to work and feared infecting their families. They demanded the hospital test all employees to be safe.
“Instead of calling us heroes, I call for change,” a nurse on a COVID-19 unit at Regional Medical Center said.
The hospital did not respond immediately regarding testing. Mark Brown, Chief Nursing Officer at Good Samaritan Hospital, said last week the hospital had adequate personal protective equipment to keep staff safe. As of last month, four employees had tested positive for the virus. Hospital contact tracing reported that none were because of exposure to a patient, he said.
Across California, 19,734 health care workers have tested positive and 107 have died, according to the state’s public health department Monday.
Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mallory.