“They were aware of everything, but they didn’t have a plan of action,” Tiffany Tassey, 28, said when referring to her experience with management while working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at Lindsay Gardens during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Nursing homes across the nation have become hotspots for infection. At one point some of the largest outbreaks in the state were in Tulare County. The causes were shrouded in mystery, but recent testimonials from CNAs may provide insight into what went wrong at Lindsay Gardens from the very beginning.
According to staff members, one of the earliest concerns from CNAs trace back to the end of March, when two CNAs noticed that a couple of residents at the facility were showing symptoms associated with COVID-19.
The CNAs immediately went to their charge nurse (the nurse in charge of the ward) about their concerns. According to the CNAs they were brushed off.
The CNAs decided to push the issue further and inform management which included the Director of Staff Development (DSD), Director of Nursing (DON), and the Administrator of Lindsay Gardens. (The Administrator of Lindsay Gardens requested that his name not be used and will be referred to as the Administrator later in the article.)
The response? According to staff, nothing was done.
This didn’t sit well with the CNAs who originally came forward, so they decided to walk out and never returned.
Fast forward two weeks.
April 15th: the first 11 cases at Lindsay Gardens are reported by the Visalia Times-Delta.
VTD reported that Lindsay Gardens Administration stated it was taking “safety measures to protect staff and residents” which included “clear and constant communication with staff.”
However, when Tassey arrived to work on April 15th, she had no idea that residents had already tested positive for the virus. She was not given a heads-up during her days off and only found out about the outbreak because her coworkers told her after she had arrived.
Tassey discovered that she was now–and likely had been–working closely with residents who tested positive for COVID-19.
Three days later, she started to get a sore throat and lost her ability to taste or smell (known early symptoms of the virus).
She was worried and went to the DSD with her concerns. Tassey wanted to go home and get tested but the DSD refused to let her leave. Tassey decided to speak with the Administrator, payroll, and human resources. No one took her seriously.
Tassey was never sent home.
April 20th: 31 cases are confirmed at the facility. (VTD)
April 24th: Tassey discovers she is positive after getting tested herself. Tassey begins isolating from her husband and kids.
Tassey was never sent home or told to isolate when she first started showing symptoms six days before, meaning she was carrying the virus and potentially exposing anyone and everything around her for an entire week, maybe even longer. And that includes staff, residents, visitors, and her own children who are both no older than five years of age.
It gets worse.
Tassey texted the DSD about her positive test results. And, according to the texts, the DSD replied by pressuring Tassey to return to work despite the fact she had COVID- 19. To Tassey’s shock, the DSD then went on to admit she suspected she had the virus herself as well:
“Well I have it and I’m here,” the DSD’s text read. “I know I have it. I have been covid unit from day one I’m feeling better now.”
April 27th: More than 52 cases confirmed (VTD article).
April 28th: First resident dies of virus at Lindsay Gardens. (ABC30 report).
May 4th: 62 total cases, 22 staff infected. 3 deaths (Fresno Bee Article).
According to Tassey, at least one of the deaths at Lindsay Gardens was in fact a resident the original two CNAs had warned management about back in late March.
“He declined really, really fast and ended up passing,” Tassey said.
Frightened And Silent Staff
Tassey stated there were 3-4 other staff members who want to speak up, but fear they may be punished for doing so. At least two staff members confessed to feeling pressured to return to work after testing positive.
One staff member, who chose to remain anonymous, (we will refer to her as “Anon”), confirmed Tassey’s statements regarding management’s ignoring concerns from CNAs. Anon confirmed the pressure put on symptomatic staff to continue working,
“They were saying, ‘No. You can test yourself on the weekend,’” Anon said.
Tassey mentioned a similar instance with another coworker who was symptomatic on arrival. The facility checks the temperature of incoming employees everyday and this specific staff member was running a fever when they arrived.
“Most of the staff were the ones showing symptoms,” Tassey explained. “One of the girls had it bad. She couldn’t breathe. She had all the major symptoms.”
Yet management like the DSD continued to delay sending staff home.
“Basically to suck it up and wait until Monday to get tested,” Tassey explained.
The management’s response led staff to confide in people like Tassey and Anon. Some expressed how scared they were of potentially losing their job for speaking up, or possibly running into a legal battle with the facility. Others admitted they were just waiting for the pandemic to blow over so they could put in their two weeks’ notice and quit.
One staff member told Anon that management would leave their office doors open while they ate and allowed staff to eat their meals in the nursing station, even though this could potentially increase the chance of the virus spreading.
Anon also mentioned that the facility handled talking to the press poorly after the initial outbreak. Anon claimed that management released sensitive information about her position at both Lindsay Gardens and Redwood Springs to the Visalia Times-Delta . Anon felt her identity was not properly protected and that the information given to VTD implied Anon was the cause of the outbreak.
Anon felt betrayed by management because she had self-isolated prior to the outbreak and tested negative at both facilities, so it was unlikely that she had caused the outbreak in Lindsay.
Feeling alone, Anon turned to social media, shared the article, and attempted to notify ABC News by tagging them in a post. But when some other coworkers saw the post, Anon discovered this may have been a mistake. Anon received a text from the DSD that essentially shut down Anon’s attempts of getting media coverage and warned Anon about spreading “negativity.”
Anon now feared being singled-out at work. So she removed the post and blocked staff on social media.
As mentioned, Anon worked at other nursing homes like Redwood Springs, although the facility has never had a problem with management.
But Lindsay Gardens was a different story. Anon felt that speaking up for the sake of the coworkers was the right thing to do, even if it meant risking Anon’s identity one more time.
The Other Side of the Picture
The Administrator, to whom the CNA’s originally approached in March, was hesitant to comment on specifics surrounding the outbreak, but was willing to give general comments about the facility and its staff.
He claimed that the facility has been doing great and most of the staff were happy. The Administrator downplayed concerns brought forward as a case of one or two disgruntled employees being negative.
As far as the DSD insisting infected staff work, the Administrator doesn’t believe those events could have transpired. He spoke very highly of the DSD, stating that she was an excellent employee on the forefront of the outbreak, working 16+ hour shifts. And that almost nobody has had a problem with her.
“She truly deserves a medal,” the Administrator insisted. “If this were a war, she deserves the highest award out there…She has pushed so hard, put everything at risk.”
When asked if the DSD or other staff could be reached for comment to confirm this, the Administrator responded that was unlikely to happen.
Tammie Weyker-Adkins, Tulare County Public Information Officer provided a statement from Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County Public Health Officer, which praised management’s response to the outbreak:
“The administration staff has been very responsive and coordinated with Healthcare-Associated Infections Program (HAI) Licensing and Certification and HHSA.”
There was one more person who vouched for the facility. She claimed to be a relative of a veteran featured in the Visalia Times-Delta.
She was on site speaking to her relative through the window when the Valley Voice stopped by the facility on May 6th to gather more information. She insisted that Lindsay Gardens had done an excellent job and taken care of her loved one with safety precautions like cleaning and sanitizing frequently.
Tassey has returned to her family after isolating for two weeks and is happy to be back with her husband and kids. And she’s relieved that none of them have contracted the virus despite their being exposed. Tassey stated the Administrators’ comments about the DSD were not true. And that management like the DSD are the reason many CNAs quit.
The DSD made no attempt to contact her since she tested positive on April 24th.
“Once you have [COVID-19] and you tell them, they don’t check on you again,” Tassey explained. “They don’t call you.” Unless of course it’s about asking when you’re coming back to work,” she added.
Tassey does not intend to return to Lindsay Gardens. She plans on going back to school instead and has been turned off from pursuing a career in the medical field.
“I feel like (the DSD) would be targeting me if I went back,” she said. “Everyone’s so scared…No one listens to us.”
Anon has also stated she will not return to Lindsay Gardens even though she cares deeply about the residents and the staff. Anon has found work elsewhere and encouraged other staff members with similar concerns to do the same.
In regards to the comments made by the administration, Anon seemed to have predicted the response:
“They’re gonna deny it,” Anon said. “I’m a 100% sure they’re gonna deny it.”
With that being said, the Administrator of Lindsay Gardens emphasized that the last thing they need during this outbreak is negativity, and that focusing on the claims of “disgruntled employees” was not the right thing to do. He stated that it could even destroy the lives of frontline workers at Lindsay Gardens.
According to Weyker-Adkins, Lindsay Gardens currently has 65 residents, 28 staff, and 12 other individuals who have become infected.
There have been a total of four deaths and eight recoveries.