Afraid to Go to Work: Dozens of Nicaraguan Hospital Staff Resign

Doctors, nurses and interns resign from their jobs to avoid being infected by COVID-19, due to the lack of equipment and protective measures in the hospitals. 

By Juan Carlos Bow (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Maribel didn’t see her work as a nurse at Managua’s German-Nicaraguan Hospital as “simply a job”.  “I loved caring for patients,” she states. But everything changed a few weeks ago. She resigned from her post at the hospital due to the lack of protective measures to avoid contagion from Covid-19.  Like her, dozens of health workers have left their workplaces due to “unsafe” conditions, reveal sources from the public and private health facilities.

“I was afraid to go to the hospital, I was afraid I’d be infected,” the nurse confesses. Maribel left her work a few weeks ago, days after they told her that she was being transferred to the “Covid area” of the hospital. “I didn’t want to be exposed to certain contagion.  I felt unsafe.”

The public German-Nicaraguan hospital has become a national reference point for treating the Covid-19 cases. Initially, it was established that it would only be handling the imported cases that entered the country via Nicaragua’s “Augusto C. Sandino” airport.  However, the reality of the pandemic later shifted the plans of the Nicaraguan Health Ministry (Minsa) and of the hospital authorities, who have been accommodating additional areas there to attend to the hundreds of cases of the novel Coronavirus.

Just as Maribel has done, other nurses, as well as doctors from that center have also resigned. A medical source outside the hospital commented that there’s “distrust” among the health personnel. “We know that the quarantine hasn’t been declared as it should, and that Minsa hasn’t given valid data.  As a result, there’s an enormous distrust in the management of the pandemic,” the source detailed.

Private hospitals having the same problem

A number of health workers have also resigned in the private hospitals, such as Monte Espana, the Baptist Hospital and the Military Hospital.  In the latter health institution, the desertions have principally been on the part of general practice doctors, clinical assistants, and admissions staff, according to a hospital source.

“The resignations have been in what we call Building eight. That’s where General Medicine, Pediatrics, Orthopedic Surgery and Internal Medicine are located, and that’s where the emergency services are functioning,” explained the source from the Military Hospital.

As in the public system, the resignations in the private hospitals have stemmed from fears of being infected with Covid-19. “We all know that the hospitals have become a source of infection, some more than others. That’s why the personnel themselves are afraid of being infected,” stated a medical source.

In a recent interview with Confidencial, featured on the internet news program Esta Semana, Dr. Magda Alonso, specialist in occupational health, explained that the cases of infection among the health workers are made more severe by “the viral load” they are exposed to. “A doctor sees between 10 and 30 patients a day, and if 30 or 40% of them are Covid-19 patients, the doctor will be exposed to all of that viral load.”

“The doctor goes on taking in virus particles, and that viral load continues increasing, so in that way they’re risking their lives more. Those most at risk of losing their lives in Nicaragua are those of us in the health system. So, it’s important that we be protected,” warned Alonso.

Government Silence

In their last report, the independent monitoring organization “Covid-19 Citizen’s Observatory” reported approximately 348 health workers who were showing symptoms of the novel Coronavirus.

Among the departments reporting the greatest numbers of infected health workers are: Managua with 190 such suspected cases; Chinandega with 27; Masaya with 23 and Leon with 20, according to Citizen’s Observatory.

The independent report also noted that some 28 health workers have died with diseases that presented with symptoms similar to those of Covid-19, among them 8 nurses, seven doctors, six workers from administrative areas, two visiting doctors and a laboratory worker.  Four of the deceased health workers were classified as working in “other” jobs.

In their weekly report, Minsa makes no mention of any cases of infected health workers. On Tuesday, June 2nd, Minsa Secretary General Carlos Saenz, reported that in Nicaragua there are officially 1,118 cases of the virus and 46 deaths from COVID-19. This contrasts with the Observatory’s last report of 4,217 suspected cases with 980 deaths among people who fell ill with symptoms resembling the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus.

The Minsa form letter, where health workers sign a clause agreeing to give up their severance package.  Courtesy photo

No severance package for those who leave

A doctor from the German-Nicaraguan Hospital, who preferred not to give her name, explained that when she resigned, they gave her a “preprinted form letter” in which she was to allege that she was leaving her work for “personal reasons”.

“I made the decision because I felt that I was very exposed, and that the protective measures were insufficient for my protection,” she declared.

She added that the document made no mention of her benefits. “I know that it’ll be very difficult for me to get them to give me the normal severance reimbursement.  I don’t expect it, because I didn’t provide them with the required 15 days’ notice.  I asked if they could give me credit for my vacation time, because I had a lot of vacation time built up, but they said: “all of the vacations have been cancelled.”

Medical sources from Managua and from the departments have complained to Confidencial about the existence of a Minsa form letter, where health workers are informed that they may resign, but that they will no longer have a right to their severance package.

“I am resigning immediately, effective today, and I’ve received the relevant information from the offices of Human Resources. With my decision, I won’t have any right to accumulated compensation, because my actions are classified as abandonment of duties,” reads a copy of the printed document obtained by Confidencial.

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