‘If one person gets sick, we’re all going down’: UPMC workers concerned about safety during COVID-19

PITTSBURGH — In a time when hospitals have to make tough decisions about what’s best for entire communities and patients who are in pain, there are questions being raised about how one of the biggest health organizations in our region is handling the pandemic.

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About a dozen UPMC doctors and nurses have reached out to Channel 11 saying they are concerned the hospital giant is continuing some appointments and elective procedures.

“If one person gets sick, we’re all going down,” said one UPMC nurse, who asked to remain anonymous.

That nurse works at a specialist’s office and said it’s business is as usual despite Pennsylvania’s governor, the surgeon general and the health department all urging hospitals to end elective surgeries.

“We were sent out an email saying if we don't continue with elective procedures, there will be a backlog later,” the nurse told Channel 11. “It's going to go downhill if they're not taking this seriously.”

She fears money is being prioritized over public health. One of her colleagues who sees patients routinely became ill and is now being tested for the coronavirus.

Medical professionals have been outspoken about their experiences on a national group chat.

A UPMC surgeon said he performed 12 cataract surgeries in one day on elderly men and women with multiple medical problems. He said visitors were allowed – adding “unbelievable disregard of public health safety.”

An OB-GYN wrote appointments are routine and elective surgeries are continuing.

Neurologists, speech pathologists, dermatologists and even sports medicine doctors said they're being encouraged not to cancel non-emergency appointments despite global efforts to flatten the curve.

Channel 11 took their concerns to UPMC. The hospital chain, which is doing a lot of great work to fight the spread of COVID-19 in our community, said elective doesn't mean unnecessary.

“We're not stopping everything some folks may call elective, but we don't see them as elective,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC. “We don't see moms delivering babies as elective. We don't see cancer patients as elective.”

UPMC officials said hour-by-hour they are reassessing their practices and working with doctors and patients – many of whom are in pain – to determine which procedures can be delayed.

“These are untold times. We've never experienced anything like this. We are doing everything we can,” Minnier said.

We reached out to other local hospital groups. Allegheny Health Network said they’ve postponed all elective procedures – as has Heritage Valley Health System in Beaver County and Excela Health in Westmoreland, Fayette and Indiana counties.