The doctors, nurses and health care professionals fighting on the front lines of Covid-19 have rightfully become modern-day superheroes. They’ve gone above and beyond the oath they took by putting themselves squarely in the path of harm’s way. They’re taking their jobs very seriously at great personal and professional risk.
The words “Coronavirus,” “PPE shortage,” and “social distancing” have quickly become part of our everyday vocabulary. While many have the luxury of working from home and maintaining social distancing protocols, those in the medical field don’t, and they’re being asked to literally risk their lives or their livelihood.
Lives are being compromised
PPE is the acronym for personal protective equipment. It’s been at the top of headlines for weeks because of the short supply and mass quantities needed to provide the proper level of safety to medical professionals during the coronavirus pandemic. Without these face masks, shields, gloves, hospital gowns and other barriers, anyone working in close contact with contagious diseases is at significantly higher risk for becoming infected.
Doctors, nurses and others working in medical settings understand there’s a risk of potentially becoming ill when working in those facilities just by the very nature of the clientele. Yet some hospital administrators have been asking, and in some cases ordering, medical staff to take off their own, personal masks while working. The initial excuses were weak at best, including being told that:
- There’s a shortage of PPE and if doctors wore their own N95 mask, others would want to wear masks and the hospital didn’t have enough to go around.
- It is against hospital policy for health care workers to wear their own PPE gear.
- CDC guidelines don’t require masks be worn at all times.
It was finally discovered that the real reason doctors were being told not to wear PPE was due to inspiring fear in patients. Doctors who refused to comply with the order to work without masks were fired.
Hospital workers believe there’s a bigger reason at play in that if medical facilities allow wearing of personally supplied PPE, it points out a negligent deficiency: that the medical facility is incapable of providing proper protection to its staff and that they’re allowing workers to be placed in jeopardy of becoming ill.
Not all risks are health-related
Loss of a job is a realistic fear for many people in the current economic climate. Those who have been fortunate to be spared the axe because they’re considered essential employees are still teetering on the edge. They know that at any given time their employer could downsize or be caught in another round of business categories that don’t fit the “essential” bill, requiring temporary closure.
Hospitals and other medical facilities don’t have to worry about the fear of being required to shut down. In fact, they have the opposite problem. Doctors and nurses are in such great demand that to make room in the budget to properly staff medical centers and reduce costs, employment agreements are suddenly being renegotiated mid-contract. As an additional slap in the face, these medical professionals are being required to work longer hours, and even forego pay for on-call hours, in the worst medical crisis they’ve seen in their lifetimes. Complaints about hours, working conditions, and lowered pay run the risk of being terminated from employment. Some practitioners have seen pay cuts ranging from 20% to 75%.
The other problem that may result from reassignment of medical staff is medical malpractice. To ensure coverage of the most critical patient care areas, doctors and nurses are being redistributed to handle care outside the areas in which they practice. Initially, credentialing criteria were established as a safeguard to prevent potential malpractice from occurring, however hospitals have created emergency policies to override that protection, placing patients and medical professionals at risk.
If you are a medical professional who has been told to remove your PPE or face losing your job, let Harris Lowry Manton LLP help you fight for what is right. Please call us in Atlanta at 404-961-7650, in Savannah at 912-651-9967, or fill out our contact form.
Steve Lowry is an award-winning litigator who has secured record-setting jury verdicts on behalf of his clients. A passionate advocate for individuals who have been harmed by the actions of others, Steve has won numerous top 10 verdicts in Georgia.
Read more about Stephen G. Lowry here.