“It is good and appropriate for health-care workers to be able to express their own fears and concerns, especially when expressing that might get them better protection,” said Glenn Cohen, faculty director of Harvard Law School’s bioethics center.
It’s likely hospitals are trying to limit reputational damage because “when health-care workers say they are not being protected, the public gets very upset at the hospital system.”
Doctors are a famously independent profession, where individual medical judgment on what’s best for the patient is prized over administrative dictates. That’s reared its head during the Covid-19 outbreak, with many physicians, nurses and other health-care workers taking to social media to express deep concerns about the lack of protective gear or much-needed patient-care equipment like respirators. Some posts have gone viral and are being shared hundreds of thousands of times, often tagged with #GetMePPE. Privacy laws prohibit disclosing specific patient information, but they don’t bar discussing general working conditions.
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
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.”
Jim Mandler, a spokesman for NYU Langone Health, said the policy was to protect patient and staff confidentiality. “Because information is constantly evolving, it is in the best interest of our staff and the institution that only those with the most updated information are permitted to address these issues with the media.”
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 authorised 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.
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.
Mazurkiewicz, 46, has asthma and cares for her father, who suffers from a respiratory disease. At 75, he’s in one of the most at-risk groups of dying from the virus. “I didn’t want to get infected because I’m not wearing the proper mask and then spread it to my patients and my family,” she said.
A Northwestern Memorial Hospital spokesperson declined to comment, citing the lawsuit. The hospital said in an emailed statement that it “is committed to the safety of our employees.”