Some hospitals in the United States have begun to threaten their health workers with layoffs if they disclose the conditions in which they work during the coronavirus pandemic that has already left more than 180,000 people infected and 4,081 deaths throughout the territory. In fact, Bloomberg notes, some health professionals have already lost their jobs for this reason.
This is the case of Ming Lin, an emergency doctor at a Washington hospital who was notified of his dismissal last Friday after he gave an interview to a newspaper in which he explained that the protection team and the tests they were doing were inadequate. “Our Hippocratic oath involves doing no harm,” Lin recalls, adding, “I spoke for the safety of the patient and have been discharged as a result.”
In Chicago, a nurse has also had to quit her job after emailing her coworkers about wearing the mask while on duty.
In addition, New York University’s Langone Health system has warned its employees that they may be fired if they speak to the media without authorization. However, according to the spokesperson for this institution, it is only to protect staff and those affected: “Because the information is constantly evolving, it is better that only those with the most up-to-date information can address these problems with the media.”
“Hospitals are gagging nurses and other health workers in an attempt to preserve their image,” says Ruth Schubert, spokeswoman for the Washington Nurses Association. “It is outrageous,” he says.
The toilets “must have the ability to tell the public what is really happening inside the facilities where they care for patients with Covid-19,” he points out and recalls that privacy laws prohibit the disclosure of specific patient information, but do not prevent discussion of general working conditions: “This pandemic represents a new era”.
According to Glenn Cohen, director of the faculty at the bioethics center at Harvard Law School, “healthcare professionals need to be able to express their own fears and concerns, especially when this could improve their protection.”
The Montefiore Health System in New York requires staff to obtain permission before speaking in public and sent out a newsletter as a reminder on March 17 stating that all media requests “should be shared and vetted.“
“Associates are not authorized to interact with journalists or speak on behalf of the institution without prior approval,” the statement said.
Lauri Mazurkiewicz, a 46-year-old Chicago nurse who was fired by Northwestern Memorial Hospital after urging her colleagues to wear more protective gear, has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit: “Many hospitals are lying to their workers and saying that simple masks are sufficient, but nurses are sick and dying.”
Nisha Mehta is a 38-year-old radiologist from Charlotte, North Carolina, who has created a social media group for doctors that already has more than 70,000 members, inviting them to tell their stories and make them public. “There are many doctors across the country who tell me: ‘We have these stories that we think are important, but our hospitals tell us that we cannot speak and that if we do, there will be extreme consequences,” she says.
But not all hospitals prevent staff from speaking to the press. The Mount Sinai, New York, has scheduled media interviews with nurses, doctors and practitioners to help the public understand the seriousness of the crisis. Also at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center they have encouraged workers to speak to journalists.
This situation is reminiscent of what happened in China at the beginning of the pandemic when it was not yet even called a pandemic. A doctor began warning his friends about a very dangerous new flu in December, and the Chinese government detained him and forced him to sign a statement denying the obvious. Months later, he contracted the disease and died.