DEARBORN — A front-line nurse at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn has shared her experience working at the prominent hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Wayne County. The region in which the hospital operates has been one of the worst hit in the state, with hospitals and their staff overwhelmed by cases of the virus, especially in the beginning months of the spread.
The nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from hospital administration, spoke to The Arab American News twice over the last month, detailing how the hospital neglected safety concerns of its staff, turned to intimidation and silencing when those concerns were brought up and how this behavior continues to get worse over time.
“In the beginning, it was just chaos and a lack of resources,” the nurse said. “The lack of PPE and other need equipment took us by surprise.
“I am very disappointed in how Beaumont has handled the pandemic, including making hasty decisions to protect profits and not being there for their nurses, doctors, people that have been fighting at the forefront of this pandemic.”
When the pandemic was at its absolute peak, with the state looking at overflow units and media inundated with reports of a healthcare system in crisis, the nurse says Beaumont did everything it could to cut costs, including forcing its staff to reuse PPE (personal protective equipment). The nurse eventually became sick herself with COVID-19 symptoms, but Beaumont Dearborn refused to test her and sent her home on a two-week quarantine.
Beaumont announced cuts to its staff in April and shut down its Wayne location even as the pandemic burned through the county. It later called the closure “temporary“, even though it made no mention of that to its employees prior to the closure, leaving many in the dark. Beaumont partially reopened the location three weeks later, after pressure from state officials. The nurse said that those working for Beaumont were not only afraid of catching the virus and infecting their families, but were also under constant threat of losing their jobs.
“That to me is the double the stress and a form of betrayal by the hospital to its workers, especially during a pandemic,” she said. “I was put under unnecessary stress, which could have been avoided if my hospital supported me, by looking at me as a human being and not as a business entity.”
Hazard pay was only available to those who worked a specific two-week period and was not given to nurses who got sick and had to stay home. Staff members were required to have an average of 40 hours of work to qualify, when most nurses work an average of 36. Unionized workers and other employees, such as secretaries, were also left out.
“This was a $1,000 one-time payment,” the nurse said. “After we fought and finally got them to agree on something, they came up with that (number). How worthless are we to them?”
Even now, nurses are only given one N95 mask per 12 hour shift, different sized than the n95 they are fitted for yearly, and have to turn it in to be reused after the hospital sterilizes it under UV lights. Most nurses are obtaining their own N95 masks, respirators and goggles to keep themselves safe.
The nurse said staff had to fight the administration for basic protection every step of the way. The nurse eventually went back to work, but Beaumont’s approach worsened, as the administration began cracking down on complaints.
“Upon returning to work for a few days they retaliated against me by fabricating accusations (against me),” she said. “They gave me final corrective action, wanting to get rid of me since I challenged the safety of our working conditions and proper PPE effectiveness.”
Even now, nurses are only given one N95 mask per 12 hour shift, different sized than the n95 they are fitted for yearly, and have to turn it in to be reused after the hospital sterilizes it under UV lights. Most nurses are obtaining their own N95 masks, respirators and goggles to keep themselves safe. Ford Motor Company and others have donated face shields to the hospital. Nurses even reuse gowns because of low supply from hospital.
Beaumont told its employees this week that it will stop tuition reimbursements and will not match retirement savings plans this year.
“The internal conditions at Beaumont are bad,” the nurse said. “The culture of bullying and intimidation has increased and they have targeted many. I have a clean, immaculate record as a nurse. They went to the highest corrective action before termination. I’ve seen them do worse to my colleagues and I wasn’t surprised.”
There may be a nurse’s union underway, which the hospital is not happy about. If it retaliates against unionization, Beaumont will follow in the footsteps of other gigantic American companies that have tried to squash collectivization by its workers during a national health and economic crisis.