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Muzzling Doctors and Nurses Is Dangerous

Bloomberg reports on the increasing number of doctors and nurses that are being fired or threatened with firing for calling public attention to the lack of protective equipment at their hospitals:

Hospitals are threatening to fire health-care workers who publicize their working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic — and have in some cases followed through.

Ming Lin, an emergency room physician in Washington state, said he was told Friday he was out of a job because he’d given an interview to a newspaper about a Facebook post detailing what he believed to be inadequate protective equipment and testing. In Chicago, a nurse was fired after emailing colleagues that she wanted to wear a more protective mask while on duty. In New York, the NYU Langone Health system has warned employees they could be terminated if they talk to the media without authorization.

The U.S. obviously needs all of the trained medical professionals it has in the middle of a pandemic, so firing them for publicizing hospitals’ lack of preparedness is harmful in more ways than one. It benefits no one to conceal a lack of necessary protective equipment. Whatever short-term embarrassment might be avoided by keeping this under wraps is nothing compared to the disgrace that comes from failing to provide protection to doctors and nurses as they treat coronavirus patients. Hospital administrators may not like having their employees talk to the press about this, but without accurate coverage of the shortages it will be much harder to mobilize the resources needed to produce more equipment. Inadequate supplies of protective equipment are a threat not only to the lives of the doctors and nurses that may be exposed to the virus, but also to the lives of all patients at these hospitals. It is in the hospitals’ long-term interest to be forthright and candid with the public about this.

The article continues:

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

Hospitals have traditionally had strict media guidelines to protect patient privacy, urging staff to talk with journalists only through official public relations offices. But the pandemic has ushered in a new era, Schubert said.

Health-care workers “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 said.

Any organization that is more concerned with maintaining its superficial reputation over doing its work properly will end up with a very poor reputation before long. The doctors and nurses that are speaking out about this aren’t just raising the alarm for their own hospitals, but they’re also warning their colleagues in other parts of the country about what they need to do to prepare for what is coming. Stifling those warnings is a disservice to the public and it undermines the protection of public health.

Health care workers are being put at unacceptable risk, and in many cases their employers seem more concerned with avoiding bad press than they are with providing the protection that these workers need:

Lauri Mazurkiewicz, the Chicago nurse who was fired by Northwestern Memorial Hospital after urging colleagues to wear more protective equipment, has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

“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.

It is maddening that medical professionals are being told to keep quiet when the public very much needs to know the dangerous conditions that they are working in. The same thing seems to be happening all over the country:

Nisha Mehta is a 38-year radiologist from Charlotte, North Carolina, who runs two Facebook groups for physicians with around 70,000 members. She’s fielded numerous requests from health-care workers hoping to get their stories into the public arena.

“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.

Many say they get daily emails urging them not to talk to the media under any circumstances. “The public needs to hear these stories and other physicians need to hear them to be warned against what’s coming,” Mehta said. “It’s so important that everyone understands how bad this is going to get.”

Health care workers shouldn’t have to work in unsafe conditions at any time, but especially now when the demands on our hospitals are increasing and the dangers to these workers are growing they should have all the protection that they can get.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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