Governor Lee has spent the past few weeks telling us “the storm is passing”, but the virus doesn’t appear to be listening. It continues to spread at a rapid pace, including here in Tennessee. Even our rural communities are far from immune, with massive outbreaks in Sumner County and then just two days ago at a nursing home in Cookeville.
After 10+ days of urging from thousands of Tennessee doctors and nurses Lee finally issued a stay-at-home mandate Thursday, citing traffic data from Unacast showing movements in Tennessee starting to tick up again as his reason, particularly in rural Tennessee. (Unacast gives TN a “D-” for social distancing and an “F” to over half our counties)
Lee believes the Unacast data means rural TN is still not taking the threat of the virus seriously enough. The data does show an uptick recently, but it’s not the first uptick in recent days, so it seems a convenient reason to justify doing something he really didn’t want to do.
He was the 40th governor to issue a stay-at-home mandate.
Waiting nearly 2 weeks to do what he should’ve done a long time ago likely means many more will be infected, particularly because this disease is largely spread by folks who don’t show any symptoms, and who don’t even know they have it.
The people most at risk are our frontline health care workers. They’ve been getting standing ovations from their neighbors all around the world for good reason, and they deserve to be the “TIME MAGAZINE PERSON OF THE YEAR” this year with no close second.
The problem is, despite Governor Lee’s assurances, we’re not properly protecting them. While health care workers in China appear to have Hazmat suits to go to battle with, our health care workers here in America are being given sports ponchos and garbage bags, and even being told to strap diapers on their faces in Tennessee – despite Governor Lee telling us otherwise.
As recently as yesterday Lee said “we’re staying ahead of the need” here, but those whose lives are on the line tell a different story. We spoke to a hospitalist in the Northeast Tennessee Ballad Health Care system about the lack of preparedness and communication there.
She spoke to us on a condition of anonymity to express her concern about the way things are being handled at Ballad hospitals – and it seems fair to wonder if this isn’t how it is in many hospitals around our state. (The anonymity comes because she’s certain Ballad would fire her if her identity got out. Not only are our health care workers not being protected throughout the country, they’re also being pressured to stay silent)
For context, Ballad is a state-sanctioned health care monopoly in Northeast Tennessee with over a dozen hospitals. They have come under fire recently for suing thousands of poor folks for not being able to pay their hospitals bills,
They were also the target of over 200 days of protest in Kingsport, and CEO Alan Levine was the mouthpiece for a company that was found guilty of Medicare fraud and forced to pay $260 MILLION in fines. (He was also recently tapped by Governor Lee for his statewide charter school approval board, which is in place to override local rulings on charter schools, and he has been known to insult people on twitter from time to time.)
But Levine’s transgressions aside, the Ballad Hospitalist tells us the reaction by Ballad has been “A CLUSTER”, citing a lack of protective equipment and testing and poor communication and education of frontline health care workers.
To be fair, these don’t seem to be entirely uncommon issues throughout the country, but the picture she paints is much different from the rosier one Governor Lee is painting for us at his press conferences, which still seem to lack the needed wartime urgency.
The Ballad Hospitalist started out by talking about masks, saying frontline health care workers at Ballad Health weren’t even wearing PPE like surgical masks throughout the day until recently:
“We didn’t even get surgical masks until 3 days ago (March 31st). Even when we knew it could be present. I had started wearing a surgical mask because it’s all I could get. It was frowned upon, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t find an N-95, but I do wear a surgical mask. We get ONE for the entire day, that’s it.”
“We don’t have enough supplies? GET THEM. This is your people. This is going to kill people. Maybe they didn’t think it was going to come to podunk Tennessee. But it’s here. At least 20 cases at Ballad that I know of. We’ve had 3 deaths, and at least 3 health care workers are now sick.
Governor Lee and the Tennessee Department of Health continue to brag about how many people Tennessee is testing as a way to deflect criticism being leveled at them in comparison to neighboring states like Kentucky, which took stronger, quicker action against the spread, has seen its numbers climb far more slowly, and recently told their citizens not to travel to Tennessee.
But despite the claim that there are no-to-few barriers to testing in Tennessee, tests are taking up to 10 days to turn around, and many are still being denied tests throughout the state and country. Some sites in TN are even charging up to $200 per test, which destroys the idea that “whoever wants a test can get one”.
The Ballad Hospitalist still has serious concerns:
“We really weren’t even testing for it. Nobody really knows who’s supposed to be testing or what the hell they’re doing. The Director of the ER has been complaining how the testing works, do we or don’t we? They don’t want to test in the ER. We just now got the rapid testing which can be turned around in 6 hours. Here in the USA we should be testing everybody.”
“They’re just not communicating well. Nobody really knows what to do. Education is lacking. I watch these nurses, they have no idea how to put on or take off protective equipment. The nurse has a Covid patient, then has a full patient load and has to go deal with other patients. They’ve been putting nurses at the door to take our temperature as we come in, but I’ve been having to tell nurses to take my temperature. They just ask “you don’t have a temperature do you”?
I do think there’s going to be a huge surge of problems.”
As for what happens when a health care worker is concerned they might have been exposed or feel symptoms, she says nurses are being forced to use their paid time off, and they’ve started laying off staff – something many hospitals have been doing now that elective procedures, which are reimbursed by insurance companies at a higher rate, have stopped – the perils of an entirely for-profit health care system.
As for her message to Ballad, it’s simple really: “Get your crap together.”
“Ballad needs to GET THEIR CRAP TOGETHER. I think Ballad historically does a good job with things. A lot of people have complained since Ballad combined two systems into one, and some jobs were cut and pay was reduced – but when it comes to health care I think they’ve done a pretty good job. BUT THIS HAS BEEN A CLUSTER.
It’s sad to me because I see such a mix of people that still don’t think it’s a big deal. Even doctors I’ve heard say this is being blown out of proportion. Sadly I think that’s because they live here. READ THE NEWS. Look what’s going on in other places. They say it’s because the numbers are skewed. No. This is real.”
As for what made her start to take it seriously, she points to a Washington hospitalist who spoke her language about what patients are going through.
“A hospitalist in Washington speaking about a patient’s progression is what really spoke to me. I was like – okay, this is a big deal. This thing is ugly. She was talking about her co-workers dropping like flies, speaking about it in a medical language that I could understand, from medical people that have seen it. Not news speak. “
The bottom line is in the richest country in the world we’ve lacked a uniform, comprehensive reaction to this problem, and we have been caught unprepared in large part because of a reluctance by Trump (and Fox News) to take the problem seriously until it was too late. (also, cutting the CDC budget and firing the Pandemic response team didn’t help)
the new powerful ad excoriating Trump’s virus response, paid for and produced by the Biden-supporting Unite The Country PAC: pic.twitter.com/BybQUGH2mk
– j.d. durkin (@jiveDurkey) March 25, 2020
Our numbers have skyrocketed. Our outbreak is the worst in the world. Our for-profit health care system system has been exposed on many levels, and we can only hope now our state doesn’t suffer even more because of a slow response and lack of seriousness by our local officials, state government, and hospital management here at home.