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Nurse describes 'horrific' conditions at El Paso Hospital, where sickest patients were left to die in a 'pit'

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Lawanna Rivers is a travel nurse who has been assigned to five different COVID units since April 2020. In a now-viral Facebook Live video, she explains that she has never witnessed anything as "horrific" as she did during her most recent experience in El Paso, Texas. 

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Coronavirus cases around the whole country are spiking, but an early hot spot in this new surge has been the state of Texas. Lawanna hopped on Facebook Live to vent and share her experience working at the University Medical Center of El Paso. She was extremely emotional describing the horror she saw.

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"This last assignment was horrific for me," she says at the beginning of the video. "Out of all the COVID assignments that I have been on, this one here has really left me emotionally scarred."

Lawanna says that while the whole country sat and watched what happened in New York during the first giant wave of COVID, she doesn't feel like what's happening in Texas is being broadcast the same way. But it's very similar. "The facility I was at, they have surpassed New York," she says. 

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"What I experienced this past month there was horrific," she continues. "I was in El Paso, Texas. Of course, the majority of patients — well, just about all of them — were Hispanic, which is a minority. For some reason, the doctors there did not aggressively treat those COVID patients, as they should have, as I have experienced before.

"I saw a lot of people die that I feel like shouldn't have died," Lawanna says. "Y'all, that assignment there broke me. I was put in what's called 'a pit,' and in this pit were eight patients, all COVID positive. My first day of orientation, I was told that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag."

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Lawanna went on to say that the doctors refused to enter the pit to assess or treat those patients for fear of getting exposed, but they didn't have a problem with the nurses being in there for 12 hours every day. 

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Nurses were also ordered to only perform CPR on those patients three times, for a total of six minutes, before letting the patient die. For contrast, Lawanna says she was used to performing CPR for 45 minutes or an hour to try to save a person's life. 

"I have never experienced, and have no words, for what I just experienced in El Paso, Texas," she says. "If those doctors there would aggressively treat those patients from the beginning, a lot more would make it."

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She describes one instance where a dead body was brought to her unit because the morgue was full. "The morgue was so full of bodies that they had ran out of room, so once the doors opened to the pit they come wheeling in a body already in a bag," she says. 

"Lined them up with the rest of our alive patients because they had to store the body in there because the morgue was out of room. They've had to bring in freezer trucks because there's so many bodies."

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While most patients were basically left to die, Lawanna says that there was one patient who got top-notch care: one of the doctors' wives. "They pulled out all the stops for that woman — it was nothing that they didn't do for that woman," she says. 

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"And guess what? She was the one patient that made it out of the ICU alive and was able to downgrade to a long-term acute care. So you mean to tell me because she's a doctor's wife, her life meant more than any of those other patients?"

Lawanna has been a nurse for 13 years and El Paso was her fifth COVID assignment. She had to leave early because the things that she saw were so horrific and she didn't feel like she was able to help these patients the way they needed to be helped.

KFOX 14 reached out to the University Medical Center in El Paso, and spokesperson Ryan Mielke provided this statement in response: "After watching the video, while we cannot fully verify the events expressed, we empathize and sympathize with the difficult physical and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on thousands of healthcare workers here and throughout out country. This particular travel nurse was at UMC briefly to help El Paso confront the surge of COVID-19 patients."

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