New York City’s Bellevue Hospital Employees Stigmatized By Ebola Fears

From The New York Times, Friday, October 31st, 2014:

For six years, Mayra Martinez had been going to the same beautician in Queens, and considered her a friend. On Saturday, while getting her hair done, Ms. Martinez, 45, mentioned she had just gotten a new job.

“Where?” the beautician asked.

“Bellevue,” Ms. Martinez said.

“She just froze and asked, ‘Are you anywhere near him?’ ” Ms. Martinez recalled. Then the beautician asked her to please find someone else to do her hair.

By “him,” the beautician meant Dr. Craig Spencer, who is New York’s first Ebola patient. As Bellevue Hospital Center goes into its eighth day of treating Dr. Spencer, who had worked with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, some of its employees are feeling stigmatized — a harsh consequence of being at the first hospital in the city to deal with an outbreak that has killed about 5,000 people in West Africa, and that is known to kill about half the people who become infected.

Bellevue’s medical director, Dr. Nate Link, said more than a dozen employees — not limited to those taking care of Dr. Spencer — had reported being discriminated against, including not being welcome at a business or social event. One employee lost a teaching position, he said.

Some nurses who moonlight at other jobs have been told they are not needed there, according to the New York State Nurses Association, a union. One nurse said her child was not allowed to go to day care. “These are obviously related to irrational fears in the community,” Dr. Link said.

On the subway to work early Tuesday, Ms. Martinez said, she overheard two passengers say they were horrified by Ebola and joke that it would soon turn people into zombies. Ms. Martinez, dressed in tan scrubs with her identification badge hung around her neck, tucked the badge inside her coat, “so they don’t retaliate against me.”

Medical workers who have treated Ebola patients at hospitals in Atlanta, Dallas and Omaha have also reported being stigmatized. The problem is severe enough that Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged it during a news conference at Bellevue on Sunday.

But sometimes the snubbing is taking place inside their own workplace. Nurses treating Dr. Spencer were in tears at a meeting this week as they complained about being shunned by other staff members in the elevators, one health care worker who was there said.

Workers in the isolation unit seem attuned to how their co-workers are viewing them. Some people who work in that unit are trying not to mingle with those who do not, several employees said. Even though the hospital administration has not explicitly ordered Ebola workers to stay away from others, employees said, the word has gone out through informal channels that it is better to lower the risk, and the anxiety quotient, of exposing other employees. Some nurses asked for arrangements to be made for them to sleep over at the hospital out of fears of passing the virus to their relatives and friends.

One Bellevue health care worker said that nurses who had not completed their Ebola training were asked on Friday to relieve the nurse taking care of Dr. Spencer’s fiancée, Morgan Dixon. At first they refused, the worker said. Then one “gowned up” and was relieved to find the work consisted of making sure Ms. Dixon’s temperature was taken and entered into a log. The worker and other Bellevue employees quoted spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to discuss hospital matters.

Ms. Dixon, who has shown no symptoms, has since been discharged to home quarantine in the Hamilton Heights apartment she shares with Dr. Spencer.


Ana Marengo, a spokeswoman for Bellevue, said on Tuesday that everyone who worked with Dr. Spencer and Ms. Dixon had been fully trained.


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