While the government calls on retired healthcare professionals to return to work and help with the overwhelming number of cases, some hospitals are letting go of staff who speak out about their dangerous working conditions.
Despite being our only hope and chance of surviving this pandemic, healthcare workers who are risking their lives on the frontlines of the fight against the novel coronavirus are now being threatened with unemployment. Following several reports about the fatal working conditions under which many doctors and nurses are currently working, hospitals are now reportedly threatening to fire those who publicize these dire circumstances. While the government has been forced to call on retired healthcare professionals to return to work and help with the overwhelming number of cases, some hospitals are letting go of staff who speak out against the dangerous shortage of protective equipment.
It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that #WhenCoronaVirusIsOver some of us in healthcare will not be standing. And to think that is partially due to a lack of #PPE is infuriating. #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/id5rrHoQFH— Joseph Sakran (@JosephSakran) March 29, 2020
Speaking to Bloomberg, Ruth Schubert—a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association—said: "Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image. It is outrageous." She added that health-care workers "must have the ability to tell the public what is really going on inside the facilities where they are caring for" those infected with the Coronavirus. Although medical staff have traditionally been bound by strict media guidelines to protect patient privacy, the pandemic has ushered in a new era, Schubert said.
After examining a hypoxic woman in her 50s with no medical problems who likely has COVID, I had to clean my single-use face shield that I’ve worn the past three days with disinfectant used to clean hospital beds since we ran out of sanitizing wipes #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/85xQcmc1dN— Ayrenne Adams, MD MPH (@AyrenneAdamsMD) March 28, 2020
One of the main reasons to allow healthcare workers to reveal the reality of their working conditions is to prepare other nurses and doctors for the looming onslaught of positive cases. Publicizing the alarming shortage of personal protective equipment or PPE will also encourage donations of the much-needed equipment which is vital to protecting healthcare workers from being infected and in turn infecting other patients as well as their families when they go home. These professionals have so far played a key role in alerting the world about the devastating impact of the Coronavirus with a doctor in China raising one of the earliest alarms about the mysterious new illness in late December.
ICYMI: Dr. Li Wenliang tried to warn people early on about the coronavirus — and was punished by Chinese authorities for it.— NPR (@NPR) March 23, 2020
Six weeks after his death from COVID-19, officials finally apologized to his family and dropped their reprimand. https://t.co/n353y1OOaL
His online chatroom warning made headlines across the globe, following which he was reprimanded and forced to sign a police statement that the post was illegal. He later contracted the disease from a patient and died. Glenn Cohen, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s bioethics center, said that healthcare professionals need to be able to voice their concerns during this crisis. "It is good and appropriate for health-care workers to be able to express their own fears and concerns, especially when expressing that might get them better protection," he said.
My babies are too young to read this now. And they’d barely recognize me in my gear. But if they lose me to COVID I want them to know Mommy tried really hard to do her job. #GetMePPE #NYC pic.twitter.com/OMew5G7mjK— Cornelia Griggs (@CorneliaLG) March 29, 2020
Cohen speculates that the hospitals threatening to fire those who speak out might be trying to limit reputational damage because "when health-care workers say they are not being protected, the public gets very upset at the hospital system." Although privacy laws only prohibit healthcare professionals from disclosing specific patient information and not general working conditions, NYU Langone Health employees on Friday received a notice informing them that anyone who talked to the media without authorization would be "subject to disciplinary action, including termination.”
We offer our deepest condolences to the families of #nurses who have paid the ultimate price as a result of this pandemic. It’s critical that we continue to fight for appropriate protective equipment to stop these avoidable tragedies. https://t.co/ZuKIDQrPR1 #GetMePPE— Nurses Association (@ANANursingWorld) March 27, 2020
Jim Mandler, a spokesman for NYU Langone Health, claimed the policy was to protect both patient and staff confidentiality. "Because information is constantly evolving, it is in the best interest of our staff and the institution that only those with the most updated information are permitted to address these issues with the media," he said. The Montefiore Health System's staff, who are required to get permission before speaking publicly, received a similar newsletter earlier this month, reminding them that all media requests “must be shared and vetted” by the public relations department. "Associates are not authorized to interact with reporters or speak on behalf of the institution in any capacity, without pre-approval," the policy states.
My friend T, a NYC Er nurse, has resorted to wearing scuba goggles. She said they are scared, she’s fighting back tears, wake her up when this nightmare is over, pray for her and she needs a hug. #thankanurse #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/eZLGb7DLv6— Irishrygirl (@irishrygirl) March 27, 2020
This week I saw a resident put a sixth staple in an n95 with a broken strap. #GetMePPE— Jenny Tsai, MD, M.Ed (@tsaiduck77) March 28, 2020
These measures have already cost some their jobs. Lauri Mazurkiewicz, who was a nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, was fired after emailing colleagues that she wanted to wear a more protective mask while on duty. "A lot of hospitals are lying to their workers and saying that simple masks are sufficient and nurses are getting sick and they are dying," she said. "I didn’t want to get infected because I’m not wearing the proper mask and then spread it to my patients and my family," added the 46-year-old who has now filed wrongful termination lawsuit.
#RealStoriesOfPhysicians— Dr. Clair Cascella (@CascellaClair) March 25, 2020
I found out that a patient I treated was positive for Covid. The admin knew about it a day prior and did not notify me. They said their policy is not to inform anyone of exposure (including nursing etc) and we work until we are symptomatic. #PPE #GetMePPE
Nisha Mehta, a 38-year radiologist from Charlotte, North Carolina, who runs two Facebook groups for physicians, revealed that many have expressed frustration at being barred from speaking publically about their current reality. "I'm hearing widespread stories from physicians across the country and they are all saying: 'We have these stories that we think are important to get out, but we are being told by our hospital systems that we are not allowed to speak to the press, and if we do so there will be extreme consequences,'" she said. "The public needs to hear these stories and other physicians need to hear them to be warned against what’s coming. It’s so important that everyone understands how bad this is going to get."