Hospitals are threatening to fire health-care workers who publicize their working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic -- and have in some cases followed through.
“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.
Privacy laws prohibit disclosing specific patient information, but they don’t bar discussing general working conditions.
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.
“Our oath is to do no harm,” Lin said. “I spoke out for patient safety and as a result I got terminated.”
In Chicago, a nurse was fired after emailing colleagues that she wanted to wear a more protective mask while on duty.
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.
NYU Langone Health employees received a notice Friday from Kathy Lewis, executive vice president of communications, saying that anyone who talked to the media without authorization would be “subject to disciplinary action, including termination.”
New York’s Montefiore Health System requires staff get permission before speaking publicly, and sent a reminder in a March 17 newsletter that all media requests “must be shared and vetted” by the public relations department.
“Associates are not authorized to interact with reporters or speak on behalf of the institution in any capacity, without pre-approval,” according to the policy, which was seen by Bloomberg News.
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.”