Coronavirus MedShare response
Photo source: MedShare

Healthcare workers around the country say they are being told not to bring and wear their own personal protective equipment (PPE) in the hospital because it might make people who don’t have it feel bad or even panic. Some are even being told that they will be fired if they wear their own masks. They are also told not to share stories about the dire conditions publicly.

These are people who risk their lives to be there for us. They are working in battlefield conditions. They are terrified not only of getting the deadly disease but also of unknowingly passing it on to their patients or their families.

They don’t have the PPE that they need to keep themselves safe so they are wearing the same gear all day long. And then, they reuse it on the next shift and the next.

Healthcare workers stories of threats and firings

Here’s a sampling of their stories:

    • A nurse in Missouri with 32 years of experience said: “I walked into work with my mask on and my boss said I had to take it off. I told her I would not take it off or I would quit,” the nurse said. “It was for my safety, my coworkers’ safety, my patient’s safety. She said she wanted to wear the N95 mask even though she doesn’t work in a COVID-19 unit because patients without symptoms can spread the disease. The hospital denies the allegations.
    • An anesthesiologist in Seattle was told not to wear a surgical mask. His wife posted this on Facebook: “(My husband) got REPRIMANDED today for wearing a surgical mask during his shift,” Jessica Green wrote on Facebook on March 25. “He got called into meetings with the administration of Swedish because they don’t want to panic employees into thinking they need to wear masks for protection.” He was told to not wear the mask or not work. The next day the hospital changed its policy
    • This is from a March 26 story on Medscape: “As upper management patrolled the halls at one hospital in California, telling staff they could be fired on the spot for wearing N95 masks brought from home, one nurse asked to see the policy. The administrator told her that, if she was going to wear one, she needed a note from her doctor.” 
    • This is from a story about a nurse in Chicago: “Instead of distributing N95 masks, which are effective at preventing the wearer from contracting the virus, the hospital allegedly provided staff with “less-effective” masks, the lawsuit claims. The hospital allegedly also prevented its employees from wearing N95 masks. The nurse sent an email on March 18 warning employees and supervisors that N95 masks were more effective than the masks distributed by the hospital, the suit states.” She was fired the next day after showing up to work while wearing an N95 mask.

The American College of Emergency Physicians responds

Finally, I just received a press release from the American College of Emergency Physicians expressing outrage over hospitals retaliating against frontline health workers who are speaking out about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). It is worth reading the entire statement. I have highlighted key points:

“The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is shocked and outraged by the growing reports of employers retaliating against frontline health workers who are trying to ensure they and their colleagues are protected while caring for patients in this pandemic—including an emergency physician in Washington State who was recently terminated after he spoke out about his hospital’s lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP, said: “Emergency physicians are prepared to handle virtually anything thrown at us as we seek to treat and heal our patients, however, we should not be forced to put our own lives at risk and have our jobs threatened simply for wearing our own supplied protective equipment.

The growing outbreaks of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, have already begun to strain our nation’s emergency departments causing a severe shortage of protective gear for emergency physicians and millions of other frontline health care workers. This dearth of hospital-supplied PPE, like N95 masks and face shields, has led to some buying their own or using donated equipment.”

Related Content: MedShare Responds (Again) to the Coronavirus Outbreak in China

Efforts to silence

“Efforts to silence, penalize or unjustly terminate health workers simply for wearing their own makeshift PPE can have catastrophic consequences for trusted institutions, their staff and the communities they serve. Not only does this type of retribution remove healthy physicians from the frontlines, it encourages others to work in unsafe conditions, increasing their likelihood of getting sick.

“As we combat this pandemic, emergency physicians and other health care workers on the front lines must be appropriately armored for the battle ahead. We need every qualified physician and health care provider we have available and healthy. We are in unchartered waters, and health care workers are doing the best they can to protect ourselves and our communities. Now is not the time to be blindly adhering to outdated or irrelevant policies—lives are on the line,” said Dr. Jaquis.

ACEP will continue to fight for its members and stand in full force behind its statements on PPE and physician protections. PPE guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to change as conditions evolve. While they should be followed, these guidelines should be considered the bare minimum for allowable protective gear. ACEP is calling on the Trump Administration to use its authority to allow emergency workers to wear their own personal protective equipment (PPE), especially when protection is otherwise unavailable from the hospital.

Each day thousands of emergency physicians work under unthinkable conditions as they bravely battle the public health crisis of our lifetime. We must do everything we can to protect those on the frontline and ensure they have the resources and support they need.”

ACEP mourns the loss of the first emergency physician lost to COVID-19

This sad news is what those who are speaking out are trying to prevent (from a Press Release on April 1, 2020)

“About learning of the passing of an emergency physician from East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey due to symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) released the following statement:

We are deeply saddened to learn that a former ACEP member and our current colleague on the frontlines—an emergency physician—has lost his fight against this virus. Emergency physicians understand that sometimes in our efforts to save your life, we may end up sacrificing our own. This is not a decision made lightly or a post abandoned in times of need. We know the risks of the job we signed up for, but we are on the frontlines in this historic war against COVID-19 with insufficient protection.

There are dire shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in emergency departments across the country, and despite efforts to ramp up production, we do not see significant relief in the near future. America can’t afford for more emergency physicians and other frontline health care providers to get sick or worse due to PPE shortages.

In times of loss, emergency physicians take what’s called ‘the pause,’ a moment shared between health professionals meant to halt the fast pace of emergency medicine and provide a chance to reflect. The pause gives everyone a chance to honor the significance of the day’s work and the solemn responsibility of holding a life in your hands. This is never easy. It is especially difficult when the loss is one of your own, part of your family. Tonight, we pause and invite you to join us.

We recognize that the stress of living and working in this environment is without precedent and can be difficult to manage. This evening at 8 PM EST, while many of you are safe at home, please stand with emergency care teams and take the pause in honor of a life lost on the frontlines. And remember, you can do your part to help emergency physicians by staying home and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

This is an outrage and it needs to stop

This is an outrage and it needs to stop. Copy and paste this story into a letter to the editor and send it to your local paper together with a personal comment. You don’t want this to happen in your community. And, this should not be happening in our country. Never. Ever.

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Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. Founded in 2005 as a single-author blog, it has evolved into a multiauthored, multi-media health news site with a global audience. She has been honored by LinkedIn as one of ten Top Voices in Healthcare in both 2017 and 2018.

Dr. Salber attended the University of California San Francisco for medical school, internal medicine residency, and endocrine fellowship. She also completed a Pew Fellowship in Health Policy at the affiliated Institute for Health Policy Studies. She earned an MBA with a health focus at the University of California Irvine.

She joined Kaiser Permanente (KP)where she practiced emergency medicine as a board-certified internist and emergency physician before moving into administration. She served as the first Physician Director for National Accounts at the Permanente Federation. She also served as the lead on a dedicated Kaiser Permanente-General Motors team to help GM with its managed care strategy. After leaving KP, she worked as a physician executive including serving as EVP and Chief Medical Officer at Universal American.

She has served as a consultant or advisor to a wide variety of organizations including digital start-ups such as CliniOps, My Safety Nest, Doctor Base. She currently consults with Duty First Consulting as well as Faegre, Drinker, Biddle and Reath, LLP.

Pat serves on the Board of Trustees of MedShare, a global humanitarian organization. She is also Chair of MedShare's Western Regional Council.

1 COMMENT

  1. help. Im an oral surgery assistant. We are not paid very well, we have a REALLY high chance of being exposed to virus during surgery. I was given an n95 mask and was told to use the same one forever. After 20 patients blood and spit being vaporized into the room by the drill, its not clean anymore. I bought with my own money a resusable gasmask style resipirator 3m6900 that is better in every way. Ive been told that we need to look uniform at work and I will be fired for wearing it, I need to use the bloody, spitcoverd, contaminated one cause it make people feel bad when they see a gasmask. I am not safe at all.

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