The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting almost every sector of our society, particularly those in the health care field. Despite warnings being issued by medical experts and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some healthcare workers are refusing to report to work because of inadequate health protections.
According to a story appearing in the Washington Post, workers like Richard Barnett, a 21-year Marine Corps veteran who served as a nurse Iraq war, have quit because of poor working conditions. Last month, Barnett turned in his badge at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Los Angeles. Barnett cited ill-fitting masks, inadequate sterilization, and at least two patients who had managed to slip through COVID-19 screening procedures that put healthcare workers at the hospital at increased risk.
Barnett is by no means alone. Across the country, nurses like Dee Shine, who serves at MedStar Washington’s eye clinic has asthma. When she took a mask from a box behind her and began greeting patients, she was summoned to human resources a short time later and was fired.
“They said they were saving them for staff,” she said, “and the masks would scare the patients off.”
Shine explained that her manager had asked her to take off the mask a day before. Shine explained that she had asthma and that she didn’t want to place the health of herself and her four children at risk for the virus. Shine said that she would be filing a complaint with both her labor union and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over her termination.
Other MedStar Washington nurses have expressed fears of termination if they take precautions to guard their own health. Some nurses have been allegedly singled out by supervisors for insisting on higher levels of protection and claiming that by doing so, they are not “following guidelines” and “using up resources.”
Barnett explained that the current situation is worse than being shot at during times at war because you know what direction the bullet is coming from and when the danger is over.
For these workers and many others, it becomes a choice of working under potentially hazardous conditions or sacrificing their income to keep themselves and their families safe. Although Richard Barnett knows that despite wanting to help, he knows he made the right choice. He continues to worry for colleagues, however.