Hospital threatens to discipline nurses who spoke out about protective gear



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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A health worker at the University of New Mexico hospital walks to start his shift after participating in a protest outside the facility on Wednesday. Nurses and other staff have raised concerns, primarily about the hospital’s stock of personal protective equipment. (Anthony Jackson / Journal)

Administrators at the University of New Mexico hospital have threatened their frontline medical workers with disciplinary action for publicly voicing concerns about their safety when treating patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

The warnings were issued as the number of cases and deaths in the state attributed to COVID-19 continues to rise, and state officials said hospitals could see an increase in the number of patients in the weeks to come. Seven other adults – four in Bernalillo County – have died amid the coronavirus outbreak in New Mexico, bringing the total to 51 deaths, state health officials said on Friday.

This week, several nurses from UNMH and other hospital workers raised concerns – mainly about the hospital’s stock of personal protective equipment or PPE – during a protest outside the hospital. hospital and in interviews with the media. Employees said the rules governing the use of the equipment changed regularly, raising concerns among workers.

“We get it. There is a national shortage of (PPE). Treat us like adults. Tell us what you have. Tell us what you are doing to preserve it and why you are reducing it,” said Friday. Hunter Marshall, a nurse who works in an intensive care unit where COVID patients are treated. “We will be understanding. I have no doubt the hospital is doing the best it can. They just need to tell us what the heck is. they do and why.

Marshall – along with other employees, he said – received a letter on Wednesday saying that hospital officials saw him speaking to the media on two occasions this month in violation of policy. UNMH.

“Your conduct described above is unacceptable and has hampered the effectiveness of this office,” Felicia Hoffman, director of the medical ICU, said in the letter obtained by the Journal.

“This written advice is not disciplinary,” the letter said. “However, other instances of the above behavior after receipt of this written advice will not be tolerated and may serve as a basis for formal disciplinary action.”

When asked about the letters, university officials referred to internal policies.

“The University of New Mexico hospital has long-standing public relations and media policies,” said Mark Rudi, spokesperson for the hospital. “All employees sign that they recognize and understand these policies on their hire date. “

The disciplinary warnings against the workers come as state officials warned of an upcoming wave of COVID patients in the coming weeks, based on models predicting how the virus is spreading.

A nurse at the University of New Mexico hospital with a sign referring to N95 medical masks during a protest outside the hospital on Wednesday, when some hospital workers shared their concerns about the stock of PPE. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis / Albuquerque Journal)

“We have tried to be very clear in our communication that we have no intention of denigrating the hospital. We have great respect for the people who make decisions about what constitutes sufficient PPE. They do the best they can with what they have, ”Marshall said. “The problem is, when we talk about security conditions in a way that contradicts the hospital’s narrative that we have enough to keep staff safe, we are threatened with discipline or intimidated.”

Additional cases

In total, on Friday, state health officials said testing confirmed 115 new cases of COVID-19 across New Mexico, bringing the state’s total to 1,711.

More than half of the new cases announced Friday are in McKinley and San Juan counties, where an epidemic has hit the Navajo Nation.

State officials say COVID-19 has been a factor in 51 deaths statewide so far. Among the seven deaths announced on Friday, the ages of the victims ranged from 40 to 90 years old. All but two had underlying health issues.

Two of the Bernalillo County deaths were seniors who had resided at La Vida Llena, a retirement community in Albuquerque. Attorney General Hector Balderas accused La Vida Llena of failing to comply with public health orders, an allegation disputed by the company.

Ninety-six people are hospitalized with symptoms of coronavirus in New Mexico and 382 people are classified as cured.

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