At least two health care workers have been fired after speaking out about the need for more coronavirus tests and protective equipment as hospitals across the country warn doctors and nurses not to publicize pandemic-fueled shortages of medical supplies.
An emergency room doctor in Washington state was fired last week after criticizing working conditions at his hospital where he had worked for 17 years, and a Chicago nurse was fired after warning colleagues their assigned masks offered inadequate protection against coronavirus, according to reports.
“Nurses and other health care workers are being muzzled in an attempt by hospitals to preserve their image,” said Ruth Schubert, a spokesperson for the Washington State Nurses Association. “No health care worker should face being disciplined or fired for speaking the truth.”
Ming Lin, an emergency room doctor at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash., was terminated after he spoke out against what he called a lack of protective measures, while Lauri Mazurkiewicz, a nurse in Chicago, was fired by Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
A similar warning was issued by NYU Langone Health in New York City, according to Bloomberg News.
Mazurkiewicz has sued her former employer for wrongful termination. She was dismissed for warning coworkers that the type of mask they were required to wear was “less safe and less effective” than the N-95 mask, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As the country braces for a spike in cases over the next few weeks, hospitals are warning employees not to speak publicly about working conditions, which could include shortages of N-95 masks and gowns, as well as beds and life-saving ventilators.
Media gag orders have been linked to hospitals across the country.
A doctor who manages two Facebook groups with some 70,000 physicians told Bloomberg News that she’s heard numerous accounts from doctors who have been warned by their hospitals not to draw public attention to problems they are encountering while handling the influx of coronavirus cases.
“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,” Nisha Mehta, a radiologist in Charlotte, N.C., told Bloomberg, adding that many doctors are receiving “daily emails” about hospital gag orders.
“The public needs to hear these stories and other physicians need to hear them to be warned against what’s coming,” Mehta added. “It’s so important that everyone understands how bad this is going to get.”
Hospital administrators say the measures have been taken to protect patient privacy.
But health care workers like Lin argue that sounding the alarm about unsafe working conditions is part of the doctor’s credo.
“Our oath is to do no harm,” Lin told Bloomberg. “I spoke out for patient safety and as a result I got terminated.”
Updated at 12:07 p.m.