‘We don’t have proper gear’ — Jersey Shore hospital denies firing nurse over PPE
A nurse who has been vocal about the critical need for more personal protective equipment no longer is working at a Monmouth County hospital, though his union and Hackensack Meridian Health disagree as to just what happened.
According to his union reps, Adam Witt was fired April 7 from his position at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where he also has been president of HPAE Local 5058.
The statement from HPAE President Debbie White said Witt was terminated “ for simply defending a fellow nurse being disciplined by Hackensack Meridian,” but the hospital contends that is not true.
“There hasn’t been an instance of a team member being disciplined or terminated for expressing their views regarding PPE anywhere in the network, including Jersey Shore University Medical Center,” according to Nancy Corcoran-Davidoff, Hackensack Meridian Health Executive Vice President.
She also slammed the union's reported workplace complaints to OSHA and NLRB as “unfounded and incorrect.”
“We have done and will continue to do everything to ensure our team members have the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE),” Corcoran-Davidoff said. “We were the first network in New Jersey to implement universal masking to further protect all team members.”
She said what the union has said and posted on its website is "absolutely not true" and is not the basis for Witt’s "separation."
When asked to weigh in on the situation at Wednesday's state briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said he could not comment on the specifics, while also noting that without any insights, "I assume somebody has to be doing something really bad if you’re a a healthcare worker right now, to be cut from the team — because we are literally diving on every loose ball we can find — so I’ve leave it to greater minds."
The union said it has filed a charge against Hackensack Meridian for unlawful discipline and termination of unionized healthcare workers and for "retaliating against their workers who are not only providing care, but demanding to have the protective equipment they need to stay safe on the front lines."
In a March 25 post on his personal Facebook page, Witt wrote a lengthy message that urged people to contact lawmakers to insist that medical staff have proper PPE.
“We don't have proper protective gear. The CDC has continued to water down the standards of what is appropriate protection to meet supplies versus supporting the science. Sometimes we don't even meet their reduced standards," Witt said. The post had been shared more than 160 times by April 7.
"This is our job, but it's still a job," he said. "Nurses could quit and walk away. But we don't. However, our personal dedication shouldn't mean we're obligated to get sick or die because we don't have the proper protection for taking care of people."
State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli also commented on the situation Wednesday, saying she has "a lot of empathy for both sides of the equation — and I just think we have to stick together and we’ll get through it."
Persichilli, a former nurse and hospital CEO, said she has empathy for the CEOs "trying to bring control into what right now seems like a chaotic situation." She continued as a nurse, "sometimes I was the loudest voice criticizing or complaining as well," when she thought staffing was inadequate or "things were not going right."
Witt did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
"We are fighting this pandemic, and we will win because of the brave nurses who are sacrificing so much to heal those who are suffering right now," Corcoran-Davidoff said in her statement. "The nurses at Hackensack Meridian Health are the best in the country and we are fortunate and proud to have them caring for our patients."