Facing unprecedented health crisis, medical professionals must be safe to speak out
Today, 11 leading U.S. health professionals associations – representing tens of thousands of physicians, nurses, and other health professionals – delivered a collective demand to protect health workers’ safety and voices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a new joint statement, the organizations call for stronger safeguards to protect health workers who speak out about the grave hazards related to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The 11 organizations call for:
- Health professional institutions and associations to operate under the principle that transparency and regular communication internally and externally regarding shortages and protection measures in the face of the COVID-19 emergency is the best way to build and ensure trust and safety in an environment of severe constraints.
- Hospitals and other health facilities to make extraordinary efforts to listen to and be responsive to creative solutions from frontline staff on personal protection.
- Institutions and associations to ensure that their members know their rights and responsibilities with regard to internal and external communication. Punitive measures against staff who speak out internally or externally regarding their lack of protection or the stresses within their work environments should be avoided at all costs.
- Medical institutions to share channels for filing anonymous complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with their staff.
- Medical institutions to share information about health worker rights and protections, including whistleblower protections.
Signing organizations include: American Medical Students Association (AMSA), American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), American Nurses Association (ANA), American Public Health Association (APHA), Doctors for America (DFA), National Medical Association (NMA), Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM), Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM), University of Washington Housestaff Association (UWHA), and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) as convener.
“Today, health associations and our tens of thousands of members on the front lines of the COVID-19 response are speaking with one voice: We need health care institutions and governments to ensure transparency, protections for health workers to speak out to promote their and their patients’ safety, and responsiveness to innovative approaches to meet identified needs,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan, member of two of the signing associations (SBM and SGIM), and medical director at Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy organization which convened the professional associations. “In these extraordinary times, we must care for those who care for us. That includes creating proper channels and protections for health workers to file complaints and speak out about unsafe conditions in their health facilities.”
The joint statement follows public and private reports of health workers being fired or reprimanded for speaking out about unsafe conditions or using their own personal protective equipment.
Members of the media can contact Kevin Short (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Health associations and professionals wishing to sign on to the letter can contact Susannah Sirkin (email@example.com).
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.