As I See It: Let’s support our nurses, health personnel fighting COVID-19!


By Elpidio R. Estioko

Fellow readers and supporters for a novel cause, at this time of the corona pandemic wrecking havoc to our lives, there is an urgent need to fully support the front liners (nurses, health personnel) who are at the helm of winning the war against COVID-19 and other health issues!

They are risking their lives to protect the sick and the whole community and yet they are “not being supported fully” and…  the worst thing is there’s a planned move by the owners of the Regional Medical Hospital (RMH)  in San Jose to shut down women’s services by the end of May. That, to me is a big blow not only to people who are in the frontline serving the needy (69 registered nurses who will be losing their jobs), but to the women and children who are benefiting from these much needed services.

Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), which operates 169 facilities and more than 100 free-standing surgery centers nationwide, owns the RMH and Good Samaritan Hospital.

RN Jocelyn Mallari, one of the many Filipino nurses and health personnel who work in the Bay Area, has requested this writer to raise awareness to their worthy cause and support their petition. “The nurses and other staff with our medical director Dr. Kenneth Phan has initiated a petition to ask the community, the local leadership and our friends from the media, to spread the information and create awareness regarding the optimal disadvantage of this move by HCA (planned closure of women’s services) to the women and children of East San Jose and its neighboring communities,” Mallari said.

HCA, according to Mallari, is aware of the petition through the CEO of RMH Tomy Ryba representing HCA “The CEO held a meeting back in March with 27 nurses in attendance to tell everyone about HCA’s plan to close the WCS departments. But she also informed the staff that she will have to speak with her counterparts at El Camino and Stanford Hospitals. Two weeks later, she informed us through our manager that the decision to close has been finalized and that we only have 60 days to operate before completely shutting the doors of WCS on May 30, 2020.”

I contacted Ms. Ryba Monday, April 27, but she was in a meeting, but I was able to speak to the spokesperson of RMH and HCA Sarah Sherwood, in a separate phone call and text messages.

Sherwood said the main issue in deciding to close the women’s and children services is due to the low volume of babies being delivered per day. “The reason… the volume is so low. There are a few babies being born daily.  There were 712 babies born in 2019 for an average of 2 babies per day. This is not enough to sustain the program, so we need to close the services,” she explained.

Another reason is that “we have been discussing this issue for a year now… in coordination with other hospitals in the area… and we ended up with the decision to close it. Besides, we don’t have the emergency equipment unlike other bigger hospitals in the area such as the Good Samaritan, but…we are willing to accept emergency cases.”

Employees that will be affected by the closure are 69 registered nurses… approximately 70% Asians, out of which, 20 are Filipinos. “HCA will rehire most of them…” Sherwood said.

Nurses, health personnel and their supporters will hold a social distancing protest rally on Friday, May 1, 2020 over plans by the giant health care chain HCA to shut down Women’s Services at RMH in San Jose. Assembly member Ash Kalra, Assembly member Kansen Chu and former Milpitas City Councilmember Atty. Garry Barbadillo are expected to join the rally.

Mallari said, “the planned closure, by the end of May in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, would put thousands of Latina and other working class San Jose residents in health care limbo who utilize Regional’s birthing services, including maternal child health and neo-natal intensive care.”

The social distancing rally will step up pressure on HCA and RMH to reverse the decision. Prior to the May 1 rally, a protest was held Thursday, April 26, 2020. In that rally, Malinda Markowitz, RN, California Nurses Association President and a San Jose resident said: “In the midst of a devastating pandemic that has already hit our county especially hard, the loss of this care close to home could force mothers to give birth in local emergency rooms, risking exposure to themselves and their newborns.”

As to the issue of lack of PPEs to ensure the safety of the nurses, Spokesperson Sherwood said, “We have enough PPEs that will keep the nurses safe and that will last us even up to the fall if there is a resurgence of the virus by then.”

Nurses, however claim otherwise! Mallari said, “I was talking to one of the nurses from ICU last night (Sunday night); he was online shopping for a CAPR because he said that some of his co-workers have had to buy their own re-usable respiratory PPEs because the hospital does not have enough.”

Further, she said: “The N95 masks are kept in the nursing supervisor’s office and we are allowed to check out 1 N95 per shift.  N95 has a usage span of 5 hours total. So if an ICU nurse has 2 COVID patients in an 8-hour shift, she is forced to use the same mask for both rooms of 8 hours. It’s definitely not enough protection from a nurse who is trying to prevent cross contamination between patients and trying to protect her or himself,” Mallari added.

“Same story of the face shields… they even recycle it! According to the nursing office assistants who disperse it to the employees they “sanitize” the face masks; the nurses wonder how they sanitize plastics?  Big percentage of face shields are donated either by the nurses themselves or by companies around Silicon Valley (Apple, Cisco, Google, Intel, etc.),” Mallari opined.

As to sanitizing, Sherwood in a text message said, “We do sanitize used mask sometimes, but we do it according to specification by CDC standard, but as much as possible, we provide new masks to the nurses. We have enough even without the donations. It is the largest hospital in the US, so we have enough even up to the fall,” Sherwood said.

Dr. Phan, who initiated the petition said: “We, the staff, nurses, and doctors at Regional Medical Center, are writing this letter to inform you of the decision by Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) to close down the Women and Children’s services at Regional Medical Center.   As you are aware, Regional Medical Center is the only hospital on the eastside of San Jose.    If you look on the service map of Regional Medical Center, the hospital covers the area from Milpitas, downtown San Jose, East San Jose to Morgan Hill.  The hospital delivers close to 1000 babies a year and it treats thousands of obstetrical visits for women on the Eastside.   We are proud to serve the mostly poor and minority patients in our community.”

With the closure of the labor and delivery service, this means a lengthy drive to the nearest hospital all of which are located on the Westside. The petitioners maintain: “If you have ever travelled from the Eastside to any of these hospitals during commute hours, you would understand the dynamic of the situation. Patients without cars might face an impossible bus ride to El Camino, Good Samaritan Hospital or Valley Medical Center. Patients who are in labor, bleeding internally from an ectopic pregnancy, or hemorrhaging from an abruption will arrive at Regional Medical Center only to face the daunting prospect of being transferred elsewhere.”

The petitioners are asking the community to raise their voice to stop this closure.   “We are asking your help to maintain this vital service for the community,” they said.

Let us all rise to the challenge and oppose HCA to proceed with their hasty decision to shut down women and children’s services!

Let’s support our nurses and our medical personnel who are risking their lives to save us!


(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedback, comments… please email the author at