What is it with people who should know better immediately resorting to censorship and gag orders in the face of important information sharing? With more and more reports directly from doctors and nurses about shortages of necessary protective supplies in the midst of a pandemic, there are also disturbing reports of hospital administrators trying to silence them, and threatening retaliation:
A hospitalist in Indiana took to social media to plead for donations of N95 masks, hoping to help local hospitals prepare for the pandemic to reach them. Shortly afterward, administrators from his hospital contacted the online forum’s moderator and the posts were removed, he told MDedge News. Administrators also warned him not post about personal protective equipment (PPE) because it made the hospital appear incompetent, and continued to monitor his social media posts. “I was told, ‘We can handle this, we don’t need the public’s help,'” the physician said. “I was hurt and upset. I was trying to help protect my peers.”
Clinicians across the country are being told not to speak to the media, and not to post on social media about their experiences. “There’s definitely a big fear among physicians, particularly employed physicians, in terms of what the consequences may be for telling their stories,” said one physician advocate.
Indeed, in at least one case an ER doctor was fired for pleading on social media for more safety equipment. That’s right, in the middle of a massive pandemic, in which we need as many health professionals working as possible, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Washington was fired for telling the truth and trying to get assistance:
Ming Lin, who has worked at the hospital for 17 years and became a local cause celebre for his pleas for more safety equipment and more urgent measures to protect staff, was informed of his termination as he was preparing for a shift at the hospital Friday afternoon, he said.
“I got a message that said, ‘Your shift has been covered,’” Lin told The Seattle Times. He phoned his supervisor and was told, “You’ve been terminated.” Lin said he was told he would be contacted by human resources staff from his employer, TeamHealth, a national firm that contracts with PeaceHealth’s emergency department.
That seems absolutely insane — and apparently lots of doctors agree. Public Citizen has organized a letter from dozens of organizations asking the American Hospital Association to condemn such gag orders and attempts to silence medical professionals telling the public the actual truth of what’s happening on the ground in the midst of a horrific pandemic.
We were appalled to read recent media reports about hospital administrators across the U.S. muzzling doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals with threats of disciplinary action for speaking out about coronavirus patient caseloads and dwindling hospital supplies needed to care for such patients.
It is critical that the public and local, state, and federal government officials fully comprehend the scope of shortages of personal protective equipment, mechanical ventilators, intensive care unit beds, and other medical supplies so that appropriate steps can be taken to mitigate shortages of these essential medical resources, appropriately and fairly allocate limited resources, and thus protect the safety and welfare of health care workers and patients alike.
Attempts to cover up these shortages by muzzling health care workers who are on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic are reprehensible and reckless and endanger public health. Although such actions may be commonplace in countries with authoritarian regimes, they are not acceptable in the U.S.
What’s incredible to me is that this even needs to be stated in the first place. It’s depressing how often people resort to censorship and stifling of speech in scenarios where it should be obvious to all that sweeping problems under the rug can mean literal death for health professionals on the front lines.