Doctors push back on hospitals that ban use of protective masks in hallways: report

Doctors push back on hospitals that ban use of protective masks in hallways: report
© Getty Images

Doctors across the country are pushing back on hospitals that ban them from wearing protective masks in hospital hallways and public spaces, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Several doctors have reported being disciplined or fired for insisting on wearing surgical masks or respiratory masks in public spaces or outside treatment rooms, as some hospitals ban their use in these locations. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has altered its recommendations for health professionals and currently says they do not need to wear masks all the time. It also said bandanas or scarves are acceptable protection if hospitals are low on personal protective equipment. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Henry Nikicicz, an anesthesiologist at University Medical Center in El Paso, pushed back when administrative officials warned that wearing a mask could jeopardize his job security, leading to his suspension from work without pay, he told the Times.

Nikicicz, who has hypertension and asthma, said that he was accused of overreacting and that his boss, the chief of anesthesia, texted him, “UR WEARING IT DOWN A PUBLIC HALL. THERES NO MORE WUHAN VIRUS IN THE HALLS AT THE HOSPITAL THAN WALMART. MAYBE LESS.”

The hospital told The Hill he had been “removed from his rotation/work schedule for insubordination." 

"The anesthesiologist was told on numerous occasions by his supervisor to not wear the N95 surgical mask while not in the Operating Room area or while not treating patients with infectious disease," the hospital said in its comment, adding that surgical masks are permitted in public hallways. 

Nikicicz said later that day he had been told he was reinstated and permitted to wear a surgical mask around the hospital and an N95 mask for procedures.  

Another doctor, Ming Lin, who worked at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash., posted on Facebook that he was fired last week after speaking out about the lack of protections and testing at the hospital. The hospital didn’t comment on his dismissal.

ADVERTISEMENT

Oliver Small, a doctor at the Cherry Hills campus of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, was told he'd be indefinitely suspended for wearing a surgical mask when not involved in direct medical care, according to Facebook posts from his wife, Jessica Green, cited by the Times.

The Swedish Medical Center said it cannot comment on "specifics regarding this individual" but said it "recently" decided to allow "universal masking."

"Despite a limited body of evidence showing its effectiveness, and while keeping a strong focus on reuse and conservation, we have decided to implement universal masking as a reasonable strategy, as long as our mask supplies allow," the statement reads. 

The statement also said the center has urged health care providers to follow personal protective equipment policies to "best protect our patients and caregivers, and to preserve our critical supplies."

Tensions are high in hospitals, as many lack the medical supplies for the growing number of cases.

The U.S. has confirmed more than 181,000 cases and 3,606 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciAverage daily COVID-19 infections topped last summer's peak, CDC says Ron Johnson praises conservative author bashed by Fauci The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate readies weeklong debate on infrastructure MORE, a leading adviser on the White House's coronavirus task force, told CNN on Tuesday that the CDC is considering whether the general public should wear masks.

—Updated at 6:03 p.m.