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US health workers fired for raising virus prep alarm

Hospitals fire at least one nurse, doctor for speaking about lack of coronavirus preparations, Bloomberg reports

Michael Hernandez   | 31.03.2020
US health workers fired for raising virus prep alarm


Hospitals have threatened doctors and nurses with being fired, and some have been terminated, for speaking about working conditions as facilities struggle to cope with surging novel coronavirus cases, according to a report published Tuesday.

Dr. Ming Lin was fired Friday after giving an interview to the Seattle Times newspaper in which he elaborated on a Facebook post where he called for improvements to coronavirus preparedness measures at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, Bloomberg News reported.

Lin, who works in the emergency room, said St. Joseph falls short of preparations already instituted at other hospitals, citing specifically a lack of adequate segregation for COVID-19 patients, and a lack of screening measures meant to detect the virus in staffers, including regular temperature checks.

Beyond Lin, Bloomberg said a nurse in Chicago was fired after she emailed colleagues saying she wanted to wear a "more protective" mask while working. And in New York the NYU Langone Health system has issued a warning that if employees speak to the media without prior approval they could be fired.

“Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image,” Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association, told Bloomberg. “It is outrageous.”

NYU Langone Health defended its policy, claiming it is designed to protect patient and staff privacy.

"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," spokesman Jim Mandler told Bloomberg.

While hospitals have previously imposed strict guidelines to require health care workers to speak to journalists only through their public relations offices to protect patient confidentiality, Schubert said the restrictions being imposed now are of a different measure.

Doctor and nurses “must have the ability to tell the public what is really going on inside the facilities where they are caring for Covid-19 patients,” she told Bloomberg.

The crackdown comes as health professionals issue social media posts that have repeatedly gone viral to sound the alarm on varying subjects related to the coronavirus pandemic, including a lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, or pubic pleas urging people to stay at home because their hospitals are flooded with coronavirus patients.

“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,” Glenn Cohen, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s bioethics center, said.

The Chicago nurse who was fired for emailing her colleagues told Bloomberg that she has filed a wrongful termination suit against her former employer, Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“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,” Lauri Mazurkiewicz said.

The U.S. has 164,785 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 3,173 deaths, according to data being compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In all, 5,945 have recovered from the virus, according to the university's running tally.

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