Hospitals Are Still Struggling To Procure PPE -- And Masks Aren't The Biggest Worry Any More

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
A nurse at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center holds a smartphone up to light a placard during a vigil in Los Angeles on March 30, 2020, during the novel coronavirus outbreak. RINGO CHIU/Getty

Nurses, doctors and other medical staff are still fighting in the war against COVID-19 without armor.

According to The New York Times, a doctor at a major New York City hospital called it “a petri dish.” So far, over 900 workers there have fallen ill, and 3000 more have called in sick. In a video shared by The New York Times, an ER doctor said that Elmhurst Hospital in Brooklyn had ten residents and “many, many nurses” get sick. As of April 9, a CDC report concluded that on a national level, over 9,000 healthcare workers had been infected.

We’re sending doctors and nurses to the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic without enough PPE (personal protective equipment). America doesn’t know about it. Doctors are fired for talking about it. Our heroes are going to the front lines without battle gear.

It’s criminal.

Why Do We Need PPE?

A cotton swab used in a nasal passage as health care professionals test for COVID-19 at the ProHEALTH testing site in Jericho, New York on March 24, 2020.

Newsday LLC/Getty

Simple: We need to keep nurses and doctors protected. The New York Times reported that in the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan, half the intensive care staff was sick with COVID-19. “I feel like we’re all just being sent to slaughter,” said an infected nurse in the Bronx, Thomas Riley, who was sickened and consequently passed the virus to his husband. Can you imagine working in that kind of environment — a place where you’re always at risk, where you put your loved ones at risk, and where that risk could be lessened by the simple addition of protective gear? And that the protective gear simply … isn’t there?

Welcome to the greatest health care system in the world, folks.

When the pandemic first hit in New York, doctors and nurses changed gowns and masks after each patient, says The Times. Next, they had to keep the same gear for the whole shift. Finally, one ICU doctor says he was told to turn in his face shield and mask for sterilization at the end of his shift. Many are told to store their masks in paper bags — which is what the CDC recommends if face masks need to be reused.

This isn’t okay for doctors. It isn’t okay for nurses. It isn’t fair for anyone who works in hospitals, for anyone who goes into hospitals, and for anyone related to those who go into hospitals. We’re helping to spread a pandemic. And we’re doing it through our health care system. This lack of PPE puts everyone in danger.

Nurses in the COVID-19 unit of MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital check the fit of protective equipment before entering a patient’s room March 24, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland. Win McNamee/Getty

A video taken by The New York Times discusses some of the scariest COVID-19 cases to medical personnel: the cases where patients were asymptomatic. “We’d look at [scans] from car wreck victims and see their lungs [were showing signs of having COVID-19],” one doctor says. Doctors who aren’t directly working with COVID-19 patients are generally subject to even stricter control on PPE.

What Happens When You Speak Out

And don’t you dare talk about this lack of PPE or its risks. Some doctors have found out what happens when you do … and it’s not good.

Dr. Henry Nikicicz was suspended without pay when he went toe-to-toe with his hospital over the use of masks. The same article by The New York Times reports that a doctor from Bellingham, Washington, Dr. Ming Lin, said on Facebook that PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center fired him for speaking out about the same things the specialist above discussed: inadequate protections and testing. In Seattle, Dr. Oliver Small was wearing a mask in the hallways in case he was an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, the Times reported. Superiors initially threatened him with indefinite suspension, though they have since changed their policy.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, Dr. Samantha Houston lost her job at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North in late March for alleged disruptive behavior, reports Mississippi Today. What was so disruptive? She organized a Facebook drive for masks and baby monitors (which would cut down on staff-to-patient direct interaction). She also sent emails to several people over the availability of PPE; they went unanswered. In the same article, the chairman of the Mississippi State Medical Association board of trustees says at least one other doctor was fired for “advocating for stronger safety measures.”

These are our heroes. These are the people we rely on the most in this crisis. They’re the ones the FDNY is saluting. They’re the ones we laud as the bravest and the best among us, the ones risking themselves to save the most vulnerable and to stop the spread of this novel virus.

We are sending these brave men and women into battle. Without shields. Without armor.

We are sending them to fight an enemy without adequate protections against it. They are scared. They are frightened. They are worried, and they have good reason to be because they are getting sick, and some of them are dying.

And they are going in anyway.

The greatest health care system in the world, folks. The greatest health care system in the world.

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