Since the start of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, we have continually heard about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, masks, gowns and goggles, which are vital for health care workers on the front lines.
Doctors and nurses are now facing a new problem as this pandemic continues: some hospitals are slapping gag orders on their employees to prevent them from talking about the dire need for PPE. And if the health care workers go against the orders, they will be out of a job.
It's what happened to Dr. Ming Lin, an Emergency Room physician who worked at Peace Health St. Joseph's Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington for almost 18 years. Although he had fears of losing his job, he said speaking out about the issue was absolutely necessary to protect hospital staff and patients.
When he first spoke out about the issue a little more than two weeks ago, he sent a letter to his hospital's CMO and shared the letter on Facebook:
Lin's biggest concern was about hospital staff and patients, not even about himself.
"We're not protecting our staff very well; we're not protecting our patients," Lin told FOX 13 hours before he was fired from his job.
That's saying a lot considering Lin worked at a trauma center in New York City when September 11th took place.
"I remember feeling a sense of anxiety waiting for the first patient to come, but the thing is, that came and went, you know, within an hour," he explained. "Once we started working it became routine for us, but with COVID, you're sitting there, you're kind of waiting, and you don't know where the enemy is."
According to Lin, hospital staff has been on edge because of a lack of PPE, coronavirus tests and the testing turn around time. But the biggest stressor is a staff member finding out that a patient they were treating – without any kind of protective equipment on – turned up positive for the virus.
"I do feel as a community we can pull together and provide adequate equipment that we need, but it's just if Peace Health wants to take that initiative," he said.
“Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image,” Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA), told Bloomberg. “It is outrageous.”
Although hospitals and health care facilities typically prevent medical staff from speaking to reporters, WSNA believes the tide has shifted and that doctors and nurses on the front lines need to alert the public to what they're seeing and experiencing when treating coronavirus patients. The biggest reason is to prepare hospital staff in other areas of what to expect and what's to come.
Lin believes there's nothing wrong with speaking out and asking for help.
"It's OK to tell the community, 'Hey we are not that prepared, we need help,' and the community will come together and help you. I saw that in 9/11," he explained. "People will come and help you, but we have to be able to be truthful about it and we have to be able to trust each other."
There is such a grave concern over the lack of PPE that health care professionals have started a social media campaign called #GetMePPE.
It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that #WhenCoronaVirusIsOver some of us in healthcare will not be standing. And to think that is partially due to a lack of #PPE is infuriating. #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/id5rrHoQFH— Joseph Sakran (@JosephSakran) March 29, 2020
Instead of stockings on a mantle we have paper bags on a wall. I’m sure if I think about it enough I’m sure I can come up with a Christmas carol about resusing N95s. #GetMePPE #GetUsPPE pic.twitter.com/IeWbVdXA4v— Alden Landry MD MPH (@AMLandryMD) March 29, 2020
After examining a hypoxic woman in her 50s with no medical problems who likely has COVID, I had to clean my single-use face shield that I’ve worn the past three days with disinfectant used to clean hospital beds since we ran out of sanitizing wipes #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/85xQcmc1dN— Ayrenne Adams, MD MPH (@AyrenneAdamsMD) March 28, 2020
Everyone forgets about EMS, we go into peoples homes& apartments & in very small spaces & have to face people with this virus. This is the same * single use* n95 I’ve worn over & over. Please don’t forget about us. We’re on the front lines. #GetMePPE #GetUsPPE #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/uNlp7VB71A— C ? (@cdevoti) March 31, 2020
This is a Dr. we know in NY. He's wearing a plastic food container lid because there are no face shields left at his hospital. RNs are wearing black trash bags over scrubs for gowns. Please donate supplies to your nearest hospital if you can. Call first. #hcwshoutout #GetMePPE pic.twitter.com/qsn2VwTFBY— Dysautonomia Intl. (@Dysautonomia) March 27, 2020
Other hospitals have put their staff on notice.
NYU Langone Health's vice president of communications sent an email to employees making them aware they had to have prior approval before talking to media. Those that fail to do so would face "disciplinary action, including termination.”
New York’s Montefiore Health System has had a similar policy in place but reminded employees of the need for permission.
Sadly, this is probably happening all across the country and these are the few cases that we're hearing about. Our medical professionals and first responders deserve to be protected. They shouldn't be punished for speaking out about this pandemic, what they're seeing and experiencing or the fact that they lack equipment. If no one is sounding the alarm then how will government officials, especially at the federal level, know what equipment is needed?