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Silenced and Endangered: Clinicians’ Human Rights and Health Concerns about Their Facilities’ Response to COVID-19

Report by Joseph Leone, Rohini Haar, Michele Heisler and Ranit Mishori. Physicians for Human Rights.

February 23, 2021.

Early in the pandemic, from May to June 2020, a team of researchers from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the University of California, Berkeley sought to better understand the human rights and health concerns of health care workers who provide direct patient care. An online survey was sent to PHR’s network of clinicians and through nurse and physician membership organizations. The survey asked about their experiences with 1) access to adequate resources such as PPE and necessary materials for patient care; 2) retaliation or reprimands from employers or government officials for speaking out in defense of the safety and rights of patients and health care workers; and 3) provision of clear, transparent guidelines and training around resource allocation. Almost all of the 901 health care workers who completed the survey were physicians and nurses practicing at urban or semi-urban U.S. academic medical centers and private health systems, a majority in California, Massachusetts, and New York. These are relatively highly resourced health care settings, far more privileged than most health care facilities in the world and compared to other settings, such as rural health care systems or most health care facilities in low- and middle-income countries.

This snapshot of experiences from the first wave of the pandemic illuminates the lack of preparation and the shortages of PPE and medical resources even at high-resource health care facilities. As many countries and U.S. states continue to experience additional surges of COVID-19 cases and increased hospitalizations, it becomes even more crucial to ensure that the human rights and safety of health care workers are protected.