Yountville Veterans Home employee who contracted coronavirus dies

By HOWARD YUNE | The Napa Valley Register | Published: July 22, 2020

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NAPA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The coronavirus pandemic has claimed its first victim at the nation’s largest military retirement home — a woman who worked at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville for more than a decade.

Gwendolyn Robinson, 62, died Saturday at the Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center due to COVID-19 complications, the Solano County Coroner’s Office confirmed Tuesday morning. Robinson was an employee in the volunteer services office at the state-run Veterans Home, the residence of about 730 military retirees and spouses.

Residents were notified on Monday by letter of Robinson’s death, according to Lindsey Sin, spokesperson for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates the Yountville home and seven others.

The death of Robinson, who was raised in Richmond and lived in Vallejo, is the first known COVID-19 fatality linked to the Yountville complex since March 15, when California closed all of its Veterans Homes to visitors except for those seeing relatives in hospice care. A statewide shelter-at-home order followed on March 19 in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has caused nearly 7,700 deaths in California.

Gwen Robinson’s husband Keith Robinson also is hospitalized at Kaiser Vallejo’s intensive-care unit after contracting the virus, and is in an induced coma and receiving oxygen, according to De Lon Adams, Gwen’s son and Keith’s stepson.

The couple, who were married for more than 20 years, began falling ill around July 6. Keith Robinson was admitted to Kaiser Vallejo a few days later and Gwen Robinson entered the hospital July 16 before dying two days later, her son said Tuesday afternoon.

Gwen’s daughter also contracted COVID-19 but suffered less severe symptoms and recovered at home, Adams said.

In a letter released to residents July 15, the Yountville home’s administrator, Lisa Peake, announced that two of the facility’s roughly 860 employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. People living in two residential blocks were placed under a 14-day quarantine due to possible contact with a COVID-positive worker, and testing of other residents is taking place this week, according to Gary Sloan, chairman of the home’s Allied Council.

Both employees who contracted the virus did so after being exposed to people away from the Yountville complex, wrote Peake, adding that the state Department of Veterans Affairs has conducted more than 820 coronavirus tests on residents and nearly 1,200 for staff members.

No Yountville home residents were showing symptoms of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to CalVet spokesperson Sin.

“The home has, and will continue to conduct significant, proactive testing onsite,” she said in an email Tuesday. “In fact, the vast majority of the more than 2,000 tests that have been administered for staff and residents have occurred on campus, as part of our proactive testing to determine any asymptomatic cases. Additionally, staff members may also pursue testing through their health insurance provider if necessary.”

Any resident who may have been exposed to the coronavirus or who is showing symptoms of an infectious disease would be isolated either in their room or a designated section of the Veterans Home, including for meals, according to Sin. Proactive virus testing also may be carried out, based on decisions by the home’s medical director or Napa County’s Health and Human Services agency.

During her 12 years working at the Veterans Home, Robinson became popular with residents both by her work in the volunteering office and her warm personality, according to Sandra Hudson, another employee at the facility.

“I think everyone (at the home) knew who Gwen was; she was always positive, always smiling, always happy,” said Hudson, who works at the home’s Holderman building, which hosts the community’s skilled nursing unit. “In her job she got to know everybody, and everybody was her friend.”

Among Robinson’s duties in Yountville was coordinating the distribution of donated goods to residents, a task that gained her widespread goodwill, according to her son.

“Christmas was her favorite time, when she was trying to get (residents) clothes, DVDs, bikes, MP3 players, personal TVs – anything that would help them have a regular life,” said Adams. “That was her goal, to make sure the veterans were having a regular life.

“She loved those vets. She loved what she did for those veterans, and they loved her at the job.”

As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, a GoFundMe page created by Adams had garnered $1,630 toward a goal of $12,000 toward a funeral for Gwen Robinson, which Adams said will take place in Vallejo at a later date and may be livestreamed.

Across California’s eight Veterans Homes, 33 of about 2,300 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, with 27 of them cleared to return to their jobs, Sin of CalVet said earlier in a statement to the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa. Four residents out of some 2,100 have contracted the virus, of whom two have died, she added.

©2020 Napa Valley Register, Calif.
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