text and photography
by Savannah Dingman
Binging shows on Netflix, learning to bake bread, diving into home projects, or picking up a brand-new hobby–people across the globe are looking for ways to spend the extra free time they’ve acquired due the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. However, this magnified life of leisure is not everyone’s experience.
While most people’s personal and professional lives are on pause, one University of La Verne student’s family is busier than ever before. Martaveous Holliday, a senior multimedia communications major and running back on the University football team, had his hands full in recent months, helping his mom Katina Holliday lead her business to aid in COVID-19 relief in Los Angeles.
“My mom is very brave for taking [COVID-19] on. Some days she works such long hours, she doesn’t even sleep,” Martaveous says. “She’s a real-life superhero.”
Katina Holliday is the owner of Holliday’s Helping Hands, a recuperative care organization that provides housing resources and services to the less fortunate throughout the Los Angeles area. She currently oversees multiple facilities and employs more than 2,000 people.
In March, during the inception of COVID-19 in the United States, Katina was contacted by a member of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assist businesses that were initially put in place to provide resources to combat the outbreak. Her intensive experience in the healthcare and housing industry made her the perfect candidate to provide the help. Although some people may have reasonable apprehension to be on the front lines of a highly contagious virus, Katina felt called to action.
“I needed to help,” she says. “Our organization wanted to understand what COVID really was, and how to handle it.”
Katina’s first undertaking to combat COVID involved something rather unanticipated: motor homes. In just a matter of days, hundreds of RVs were parked along the shoreline of Dockweiler Beach. The campers housed people in states of limbo surrounding the virus, including people who were awaiting test results, had come in contact with a COVID positive person or were experiencing COVID-related symptoms.
Due to protests from the surrounding community, the RV operation was short-lived. Fortunately, further funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allowed Katina to continue her help in other parts of L.A. County.
This expansion involved temporary leases for several hotels within the county. At these sites, the staff is able to conduct tests and provide comprehensive medical care to patients. The hotels are divided into two separate categories: tier one and tier two. Tier one hotels support at-risk individuals who are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 due to their age and health conditions. Tier two hotels house people who either need to quarantine or isolate. People who are asked to quarantine have tested positive for COVID-19, and people placed in isolation have been exposed to the virus. One site in downtown Los Angeles even takes in people directly off the street who test positive for COVID-19. Katina also says this is also the only site in Los Angeles that accepts patients with mental illness.
While testing availability has greatly improved since the inception of COVID-19, her confidence in testing has decreased as new information is released. In fact, a new procedure put in place requires a person who tested negative for COVID-19 to be re-tested in 3-7 days, as a new report suggested that swab tests rendered a 37 percent false negative result.
Holliday’s Helping Hands also provides on-site access to psychiatric nurse practitioners who provide detoxing services, psychiatry, family nurse practitioners and registered nurses. For behavioral support, there are social workers and counseling support for the patients staying at their facilities.
Katina’s employees were eager to help when the opportunity to take on COVID-19 presented itself. Charlie Wiseman, a senior manager for the organization, was inspired by his staff’s courage. He says not one employee was apprehensive or backed down from the challenge.
“Right away, they wanted to help – everyone wanted to be a part of it,” Charlie says. “You’ve got some [employees] who are willing to even go into rooms without the personal protection equipment (PPE) gear because they really care and want to help people.”
Charlie was amazed at the expedited process when they began. “Once we got our first hotel in Sherman Oaks– after [DHS] just mentioned it – we had to open it the very next day.”
Regarding the transition from working with the homeless to being on the front lines of a health care emergency, Charlie says he didn’t have time to notice much of a difference. The urgency and accelerated process didn’t leave a moment to think. Charlie says he and his colleagues simply acted off instinct. They continued to run business as usual and meet the needs that were required, this time, at an exponential pace.
Although Charlie felt confident in his staff, he knew there would be some adjustments to their traditional operational style, given the novelty of the virus. “There’s no guidelines. It’s like flying a plane and putting it together at the same time,” he says.
Katina echoed a similar idea, saying the CDC recommendations changed on a daily basis. “There was a lot going on. We were trying to keep up to make sure that everyone remained safe.”
To stay on top of the latest findings, Charlie says updating the staff on a daily basis was crucial to ensuring their safety. This was a major team effort. During shift changes, information regarding new guidelines and policies had to be passed along and acted on quickly to increase the site’s efficiency.
In early May, the first staff member at the organization tested positive for COVID-19, greatly increasing Katina’s concern for her staff. She continues to emphasize the importance that everyone does their due diligence and follow the proper precautions, but she couldn’t help the anxieties that come along with the possibility of being understaffed in such a dire situation.
In the same week, the first patient death took place under their care due to an advanced stage of heart failure. Katina says he lived on Skid Row and was denied entry to numerous facilities. “He came waltzing into our facility,” she says. “He was so excited we would take him in and help him during this time.”
The next patient died just 12 hours later. He tested negative for COVID-19, but Katina believes the test result was a false negative, as the patient was in his 50s and suffered from all of the symptoms related to COVID-19. Throughout his care, he suffered from shortness of breath and was transported to a local hospital to be intubated on a breathing machine. As his condition improved, he left against the physician’s recommendations, and he died three hours later in Katina’s facility.
Katina Holliday says these experiences further motivate her dedication to caring for others.
“I’ve cared for people my whole life; by nature, it’s in me to care. I want to help everyone get better,” Katina says.
Amidst reports of COVID-19 disproportionately affecting the Black community at a much higher rate, Katina feels even more passionate to continue her efforts. She hopes to spread information to her employees and to encourage those around her to be sure to get medical treatment if they are experiencing any suspicious symptoms.
“Due to history, African-Americans, especially males, won’t go to the hospital as quickly as other races because of the Tuskegee experiment and other things of that nature,” Katina says.
She emphasizes the importance of education and highlights the role media play in helping people feel safe and knowledgeable about the care that is available. She says hospitals are taking every precaution and safety measure and encourages people to continue to seek the care they need. “People are afraid to go to the hospital because of COVID, so they’re dying of things that can be treated,” Katina says.
Aside from ensuring everyone’s health and safety, Charlie Wiseman also says another main focus was employment. He empathizes with the thousands of people who were losing their jobs amid the country-wide shut down and knew he could be part of the solution.
Jaylen Payne, a registered nurse, traveled all the way from Aberdeen, Mississippi to join Katina’s staff to support her efforts. Jaylen was previously working in the ICU of the North Mississippi Medical Center. “She told me spur-of-the-moment she needed help at one of her COVID sites. Who better to do it than her cousin? I was excited to help,” Jaylen says.
She conducts COVID-19 testing and handles all of the new, incoming patients who are at high-risk of being infected. Jaylen says his paranoia regarding the virus came and went long before he was dealing with COVID-19 patients himself. “I already went through my panic in December. I was running around thinking, ‘They’re going to put COVID patients in my ICU soon.’”
While Jaylen’s worry was at bay, some staff members did not feel as relaxed. Tevin Jackson, a resident adviser at the downtown location, initially experienced some anxieties surrounding the severity of the virus, but the company’s precautions helped alleviate those emotions. “Once they walked us through the protective procedures, I felt much more at ease,” Tevin says. “We have face shields, masks, scrubs, plus we’re sanitizing our stations every 15 minutes.”
Tevin relates their precautions to the same heightened levels the medical staff in hospitals are performing. He also adds the staff does not have direct contact with positive COVID-19 patients. “We’re really saving the world, we’re helping fight COVID-19,” Charlie says. “We look at our employees like heroes.”
The future of the company’s operations depends on the demand for their services. While they will begin shifting toward a “recovery phase” in May, some experts predict another spike of cases when summer ends. Katina Holliday’s Helping Hands’ COVID-19 relief effort will continue as long as their lease is active, and they may even obtain additional locations.
“For now, I’m told the hotels will be up and running tentatively until Aug. 1, but there is still a possible extension on that lease,” Katina says.
Looking toward the future, all of Katina’s employees say everyone should continue to live their lives more cautiously.