On March 23, 2020, a former nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital filed a wrongful termination suit against her employer. The plaintiff, Lauri Mazurkiewicz, claims her termination was retribution for warning coworkers that the masks provided by the hospital were insufficient protection against COVID-19. The suit, filed in Cook County, Illinois Circuit Court, names her supervisor, Bridget Wicherek, and hospital president, Jay Anderson, among the defendants.
A Warning to Fellow Hospital Staff
According to Mazurkiewicz, Northwestern Memorial Hospital began admitting and treating coronavirus patients in March of 2020. However, the hospital staff was given ineffective face masks to wear, thus, potentially exposing them to the virus. In response, on March 18, 2020, Mazurkiewicz sent an email to her fellow hospital staff and supervisors stating the hospital-issued masks were inadequate protection. She explained that N95 masks are far more effective, despite the hospital actively preventing its staff from wearing N95 masks. She also said she would be wearing her own N95 mask to the hospital. She claims that upon coming into work the next day wearing her N95 mask, she was let go.
N95 Masks vs. Surgical Masks
N95 masks, unlike regular surgical masks, block up to 95% of particles. They’re considered the best protection for medical professionals from exposure to the virus. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, these masks have been in short supply. The mask shortages have triggered calls for mask donations from businesses such as nail salons, autobody shops, or museums—anyone who may have personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand. The hashtag #GetMePPE has also been trending across social media as hospitals struggle to locate adequate supplies.
Nationwide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Shortages
The outrage from the medical community at the shortage of necessary PPE has been undoubtedly widespread. On the same day Mazurkiewicz’s lawsuit was filed, nurses protested outside the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, California. They demanded additional protective equipment as they treat the influx of COVID-19 patients. The California Nurses Association—part of a union of over 100,000 nurses nationwide—has also threatened to invoke a “safety stop”. This is a legal refusal to provide treatment in dangerous working situations. Nurses in California have also filed complaints with the state’s OSHA office.
Are More OSHA Complaints on the Horizon?
Mazurkiewicz’s case in Illinois is just one example of how the fight for PPE has taken a legal turn. Across the country, medical providers are becoming increasingly alarmed and angry as medical supplies dwindle. In California, OSHA complaints may escalate to legal action against hospitals or even a legal safety stop of all nurses—which could have dire consequences for patients. The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented time for hospitals and medical professionals everywhere which, in turn, will give rise to corresponding litigation in its wake.
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