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Nurse suspended after raising $12,000 to buy colleagues protective gear amid global shortages

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A New Jersey nurse was suspended by her hospital after raising more than $12,000 to buy herself and her colleagues protective gear amid global shortages, according to a report by ProPublica

Olga Matievskaya and other intensive care nurses at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey turned to GoFundMe to raise money to buy protective gear after reportedly facing shortages. "[Personal protective equipment] are desperately and urgently needed for health care frontliners staff in ICU/CCU," Matievskaya wrote on the campaign. "Money will be used to order overalls, shoe covers, masks, filters for respirators, sanitizers, and wipes." 

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Source: gofundme

Donations soon flooded in, and the nurses were able to raise $12,000 that they used to buy 500 masks, 4,000 shoe covers, and 150 jumpsuits. But celebrations were cut short when hospital administrators suspended Matievskaya for distributing “unauthorized” protective gear.

Matievskaya told ProPublica that she purchased the protective gear on eBay. She did not criticize the administrators for the decision and declined to comment further following her suspension. 

Four other nurses at the hospital did speak to the publication, saying administrators had failed to get them the protective equipment they needed. All of the nurses said that Matievskaya showed leadership for her decision to keep people safe, while one said that “there was no information distributed” about not purchasing supplies themselves.

In a statement, the hospital told ProPublica: “No employee is allowed to distribute unauthorized medical supplies within the hospital. The nurse in question was temporarily suspended for inappropriately distributing unauthorized medical supplies, against this policy.” 

“We are working 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, to ensure that the appropriate PPE gets to the right staff at the right time,” the hospital added.

Doctors, nurses, and other staff have been using the hashtag "GetMePPE" to highlight some of the extreme lengths they've gone to because of global shortages of protective equipment. "I’m a physician at a hospital in NYC, and THIS IS THE 'PPE' I WAS JUST HANDED for my shift," one user wrote, sharing a photo of a rain poncho they're using in the place of a medical gown. "Our federal government has completely failed its health care workers." 

Dr. Ayrenne Adams, a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston added: "After examining a hypoxic woman in her 50s with no medical problems who likely has COVID, I had to clean my single-use face shield that I’ve worn the past three days with disinfectant used to clean hospital beds since we ran out of sanitizing wipes." 

And this emergency room doctor has even resorted to putting his protective gear in an oven to try and kill any viruses that might be on them. 

But according to a Bloomberg report, some medical workers are being threatened with dismissal over such posts. Ming Lin, an emergency room physician in Washington state, was fired by his hospital after he spoke to a local newspaper about a similar post he made on Facebook.

In Chicago, nurse Lauri Mazurkiewicz was fired when she emailed colleagues complaining about a lack of protective gear. And in New York, the NYU Langone Health system sent out an email threatening to dismiss any employee who talks to the media without their permission.

Mazurkiewicz, the Chicago nurse who was fired, said that she was encouraging colleagues to wear more protective gear because she has asthma and cares for her elderly father. 

“A lot of hospitals are lying to their workers and saying that simple masks are sufficient and nurses are getting sick, and they are dying,” she said. “I didn’t want to get infected because I’m not wearing the proper mask and then spread it to my patients and my family." 

The hospital declined to comment because Mazurkiewicz has filed a lawsuit.

Jim Mandler, a spokesman for NYU Langone Health, told Bloomberg that the policy was to protect patient and staff confidentiality. “Because information is constantly evolving, it is in the best interest of our staff and the institution that only those with the most updated information are permitted to address these issues with the media,” he said. 

Ruth Schubert, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Nurses Association, told Bloomberg: “Hospitals are muzzling nurses and other health-care workers in an attempt to preserve their image. It is outrageous.” 

She added that in this time of crisis, healthcare workers “must have the ability to tell the public what is really going on inside the facilities where they are caring for CCOVID19 patients."

The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.