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Pandemic Voices Cannot Be Silenced

I am a surgeon. These are unprecedented times. The economy of our entire country was shut down to curb the spread of the Coronavirus. The number of those infected and the number who have died grow exponentially. The resources of our resource full United States are stretched thin as cities and states fight for personal protective equipment, ventilators and health care workers who are working constantly and exhausted.

Unlike war time, journalists cannot easily report from the front lines as they would use valuable protective gear. The public gets its stories from the hospital bedside and Intensive Care directly from health providers – the doctors, nurses, assistants, respiratory technologists, lab workers, cleaning staff.

Through their eyes and from their mouths come heartbreaking stories of sorrow, suffering and death.

Now healthcare administrators are censoring doctors and nurses for posting updates or talking to the news about their hectic work fighting this pandemic. Hospitals do not want to look bad or unprepared. Early in the pandemic, in some hospitals, employees were forbidden or punished for walking about with a mask – which apparently sent the wrong message of an uncontrolled crisis.

The Washington Post reported on a doctor in Bellingham, Washington who was fired for his Facebook post stating he and his staff did not have a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment. That Post author was also told not to share personal stories with the press. Other healthcare workers are warned to get permission from hospital administration, before speaking to the media.

Now many doctors and nurses are staying silent and refusing media requests for interviews and comment for fear of reprisal. Truly the Washington Post tagline “democracy dies in darkness” is apt.

We health providers know the HIPAA laws which protect patient privacy. We are not divulging protected patient health information. We are sharing stories of our ordeal battling this virus, crying out for more resources like personal protective equipment, voicing our frustration when we are placed in an uncomfortable situation. What does a gynecologist or orthopedic surgeon know about respiratory care and ventilator settings.

Hospitals and health systems want to protect their institutions and administrators want to protect their jobs.

We on the front line, want to save lives.

I hope that when this crises is over, health systems and hospitals will not retaliate against those who spoke up, using that excuse to trim their roster of troublemakers. I hope doctors and nurses and other providers will be united to protect those voices that rose up during this pandemic.

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