Dr Ming Lin says they were reasonable requests.
Set up a triage system outside the hospital, check the temperatures of all patients, visitors and staff before they can go inside, and give healthcare workers scrubs so that they do not risk taking the novel coronavirus home with them, were high on his list.
But about 10 days after the emergency physician made those recommendations for how to improve his hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – sharing several posts publicly on Facebook and speaking to a local newspaper – he says he was fired.
“I was surprised. I got a couple of warnings, and then the next thing you know, about 10 days later, I got terminated,” says Lin, who had worked for 17 years at PeaceHealth St Joseph Medical Center, a hospital in Bellingham, Washington
“Healthcare providers and healthcare workers are often silenced,” he said. “We, as healthcare providers, take an oath to do no harm, and that includes pointing out any deficiency that may cause harm to patients. If we speak out, we can be reprimanded and terminated.”
PeaceHealth did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment by the time of publication. TeamHealth, which has a contract with PeaceHealth to provide staff at the hospital, said in a statement that Lin was not terminated by TeamHealth and that the group is “committed to engaging with him to try to find a path forward”.
Lin’s case highlights a growing trend of healthcare workers sharing their experiences and concerns around the response to the coronavirus pandemic on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites, drawing attention to the often grim pictures they are seeing inside the hospitals.
Lack of equipment
Their sometimes harrowing accounts circulate online daily, from freezer trucks set up in hospital parking lots to store dead bodies, to physicians having to tell families their loved ones died over FaceTime and desperate pleas for more personal protective equipment.
As the pandemic grips the US, where the death toll is steadily climbing, social media has become the easiest way for some healthcare professionals to raise awareness and get people to take the contagious virus seriously.
In some instances, social media has also become a tool to lobby government and other officials to get them the tools they need, while it can also help build a sense of community and support amid a fraught pandemic response. A lack of masks, gowns, gloves and other equipment is one of the main issues that doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers are speaking out about.
A photo of nurses at a New York hospital wearing rubbish bags as protective gear to treat COVID-19 patients went viral last week. “NO MORE GOWNS IN THE WHOLE HOSPITAL,” read a caption on the photo on Facebook. “NO MORE MASKS AND REUSING THE DISPOSABLE ONES.”
Dr Richard Loftus, an internist in Rancho Mirage, California, also spoke out about the lack of equipment for healthcare workers on the front lines, comparing it to sending ill-equipped troops into battle in World War II.
“Your front-line troops right now wear medical scrubs, and they do not have helmets and they do not have weapons,” he said in a video shared on Twitter on Sunday.
‘Bold, loud truths’
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Loftus said he chose to speak out publicly after he realised that the public was not taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously enough, and that local government was not doing much, either. He said he raised serious concerns in February with his hospital leaders about the potential impact of the virus.
“I told them at the time, this is going to be a one-in-500-years event, like an asteroid hitting the earth. And I am sure they thought I was histrionic. Of course, now looking at what’s happening in the world, my analogy was apt,” he said.