Kaiser Permanente nurses and staff held a candlelight vigil May 27, in honor of fellow nurse Sandra Oldfield. She died after exposure from COVID-19 back in March, at the onset of the Coronavirus outbreak in the US.
Oldfield was 53.
The vigil held at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno’s sidewalk included emotional speeches, fire-fighter trucks, police and sheriff department driveby, and a masterful performance by violinist Patrick Contreras.
Colleagues remembered Oldfield, fondly known as Sandy, as a kind nurse who was always there for her patients and colleagues.
A framed portrait of Oldfield displayed at the candlelight vigil showed a woman with a mild calming smile that seemed to confirm her friend’s praises.
Her co-workers in the Telemetry Department wore orange, her favorite color, and some with t-shirts with Oldfield’s photo in the front with the words “forever missed” printed on the side of her picture.
Oldfield’s death is a bitter pill to swallow for her colleagues at Kaiser Permanente, who have worked tirelessly to save all COVID-19 patients and had not lost a single patient until Sandy.
Speakers expressed frustration for her death, saying it was preventable had the hospital provided her with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Colleagues say Oldfield was exposed to the virus back in March while caring for a patient they suspected had COVID-19, but had not been confirmed.
Bonnie Castillo, National Nurses United Executive Director released a statement in support of Oldfield and called for Kaiser Permanente to provide medical workers with PPE.
“This is a way for us to rip the bandaid off for the public and show them PPE is disposable, but nurses are not,” Amy Arlund, an ICU nurse at Kaiser Fresno and California Nurses Association Board Member. “Sandy was not disposable, and she didn’t have to die. She died because the hospital did not provide her with the protection she needed to do her job.”
In her speech, ICU nurse Colleen Tillery said she was among the last people to speak to Oldfield before she became unconscious. She recounted the effort they put into saving her life without success.
“Sandy, the Kaiser team, gave you 100 percent, all we had was fight for you,” Tillery said. “We prayed with you; we danced with you, we washed your hair, we painted your nails, we touched and embraced your body with our love and compassionate care.”
Tillery’s speech moved the nurses in the audience, some of whom also cared for Oldfield in her month-long fight for her life. Tears rolled down their mask-covered faces, as they listened in silent affirmation, a stark reminder they still need to protect themselves from the virus that has killed thousands in the US including one of their own.
“Your memory will always live on in our Kaiser family,” Tillery said. “You’re a hero, our guardian angel, and our sister.”
In an official press statement regarding Oldfield’s death, Wade Nogy, Kaiser Permanente Fresno, Vice President, and Area Manager, said her death saddens them, and they share in the grief her friends and family are going through.
Recounting the deadly impact of the virus among medical professionals, Nogy said Oldfield joins a list of frontline workers who have succumbed to the disease.
“In Sandy’s case, in March, she had exposure to a patient before the patient was suspected to have COVID-19,” Nogy said in his statement.
He praised the staff for their effort to save her life.
“Sandy’s colleagues worked tirelessly for weeks to save her life,” Nogy said. “We are deeply grateful to our medical teams, staff, and employees who are expertly and compassionately caring for our members, patients, communities, and each other.”
Nogy said Kaiser Permanente has many years of experience in managing highly infectious diseases and protecting employees, patients, and members.
“We are using CDC-prescribed precautions and providing our staff with protective equipment that is aligned with the latest science and guidance from public health authorities. These are the same protocols and personal protective equipment being used by other hospitals [sic] systems in California and across the nation,” Nogy said.
Arlund said CDC standards are not sufficient, and Kaiser Permanente needs to adopt higher standards to protect employees.
“This was an unnecessary death,” Arlund said in a previously released press statement. “We told them that we didn’t know enough about this virus and we needed to take every precaution. Instead of managers listening to nurses, they listened to weak government guidelines.”
For her part, Castillo appealed for OSHA to take action in order to protect nurses.
“So as we take this moment to honor Sandy and pay tribute to her determination and difference that she made in her patients’ lives and all our lives, we also demand that all nurses be protected,” Castillo said. “We demand that OSHA issue an emergency temporary infectious disease standard to mandate that our employer protect us. We should not have to beg.”
More than 300 mask-wearing people attended the candlelight vigil that took place on the lawn and Kaiser Permanente sidewalk by the hospital’s main entrance on Fresno St.
Oldfield worked at Kaiser Permanente Fresno for 25 years.
DISCLOSURE: My wife is a nurse at Kaiser Permanente, Fresno. I have met many Kaiser Permanente nurses in staff-related social events. My reporting is not influenced by those relationships. Information in the report was independently sourced.