There's a crisis within the coronavirus crisis hitting hospitals and medical facilities around the country. Personal protective equipment — the gloves, masks and gowns needed to protect front-line healthcare workers — is in short supply in many U.S. hospitals. Private companies and nonprofits are pitching in, trying to get the equipment where it's needed. So are healthcare workers like Tonya Randolph.
Before last Wednesday night, Randolph, a traveling nurse, worked at Lake Granbury Medical Center, she told the Observer last week. (Neither the hospital nor its parent company provided any comment on the substance of Randolph's story, although Dixielee Hedgecock, a spokeswoman for the medical center, did say that the hospital has an adequate supply of protective equipment, including masks.)
As the novel coronavirus crisis veered from epidemic to pandemic earlier this month, Randolph began wearing her personal N95 respirator during her shifts. Last Monday morning, she received a text from a supervisor. She and her colleagues were told that they should wear N95 masks only when they were caring for patients who'd already tested positive or were currently being tested for COVID-19.
According to Randolph, the hospital didn't want the nurses wearing masks because it felt that the nurses doing so might scare patients.
Randolph chose not to follow the order.
"(I told my supervisor), 'If you can guarantee I will be doing no harm to my patients, I will remove my mask,' " Randolph says, recalling being summoned to chat after the supervisor who sent the text spotted her with her mask on. "She was not able to say anything. (She) kept her mouth shut."
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A human resources representative for the hospital fired Randolph as she sat in the parking lot, ready to come in for her shift Wednesday night.
None of her actual patients, Randolph says, ever had a problem with the mask.
"I had patients thank me for wearing a mask. I explained to them, 'I'm not wearing a mask because I'm sick, but because I am protecting you and protecting me,' and they expressed appreciation for that, just the opposite of fear," Randolph says.
Randolph says the agency that secures her traveling is 100% behind her, so she isn't worried about getting another job. She's still considering her legal options with regard to the Granbury hospital, she says.