Healthcare Workers Say They’ll Be Fired If They Wear Their Own Masks

By: Patricia Salber MD, MBA

Healthcare workers who risk their lives by showing up for work are being threatened with firing for trying to protect themselves with their own masks.

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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:

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.”

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.

COVID-19 ANNOUNCEMENT FROM THE DOCTOR WEIGHS IN:

We’ve changed the focus of our newsletter to focus on providing daily reliable, usable information to help you deal with the challenges of the #COVID19 Pandemic. Stay safe. Stay informed.**

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Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In, a multi-media health news company. She has been honored by LinkedIn as one of ten Top Voices in Healthcare in both 2017 and 2018. Prior to moving into health journalism, she was a physician executive who worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She loves to read and write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare. Pat serves on the Board of Trustees of MedShare, a global humanitarian organization.

Originally published at https://thedoctorweighsin.com on April 1, 2020.

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