Dr. Cleavon Gilman says he was told his Arizona hospital no longer wanted his services after he sounded the alarm about the second surge of COVID-19, so he was home on Wednesday when the older of his two children bought him word of a new pandemic tragedy.
“My oldest just came in the room to tell me that her friend's father just died from COVID19,” Gilman tweeted afterward.
He reported what his daughter told him what her 13-year-old friend had said.
“I got COVID and survived, but my father died.”
In an earlier tweet, on Nov. 22, Gilman announced that he had arrived to work an overnight shift at Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) to discover that not a single hospital in the state was able to take an ICU transfer at a time when Arizona officials were saying there were 175 beds available.
“Where are the 175 ICU beds?” the 41-year-old emergency medicine physician asked when he spoke to The Daily Beast that evening. “We’re hearing there are NO beds available.”
Just as he was arriving to begin his next shift the day of The Daily Beast story, he received a phone call from Envision Healthcare, a medical staffing company that hired him to work. He was told that the hospital no longer wanted his services.
“A slap in the face,” he would later tweet.
At first, he kept silent about the call. He was still at heart the combat Navy corpsman who had served in Iraq and needed only to hear the cry “Corpsman up!” to race into direst danger to attend to a wounded Marine. He could not believe that in the midst of the present deadly fight his hospital had essentially said, “Corpsman OUT!”
If anybody should have been fired, it was YRMC’s $1 million-a-year CEO, Dr. Robert Trenschel, for failing to speak out when the state was seeking to minimize the emergency. Other hospitals have fired healthcare workers for speaking out to the press and on social media. And many hospitals have threatened their staff with termination for making unauthorized statements. The given reason is invariably patient privacy, but a desire to maintain control is almost certainly a major factor.
Envision Healthcare confirms that YRMC said it no longer wanted Gilman’s services, and Gilman said in a tweet, “Envision has had my back 100% during this horrible situation.” There remained a chance that the situation could be resolved and Gilman’s priority was to remain able to help those who needed him. He continued to be ever ready to speak out on behalf of others, but he said nothing about his situation with the hospital as he was featured in stories in The New York Times and CNN between Nov. 25 and Thursday night, when the Arizona Republic broke the news.
In that time, word of Gilman’s fight against the virus also reached President-elect Joe Biden. His transition team posted a video of him speaking on the phone with Gilman. Biden mentioned Gilman’s service as a corpsman in Iraq and thanked him for his service as what is essentially a combat doc in this national emergency. The conversation was particularly poignant because both men have struggled with stuttering, an impediment that still sometimes dogs Gilman.
But even after the widely seen praise from the next president, the hospital had not recovered its senses. Gilman told an Arizona reporter on Thursday that he had been fired for speaking the simple truth. Other media outlets took notice and on Thursday night the hospital’s position regarding Gilman changed.
“There has been a misunderstanding,” the hospital said in a statement.
The hospital added, “We need good caregivers like Dr. Gilman here.”
Gilman tweeted in response, “Oh really, news to me.”
The hospital reported that Gilman is scheduled to work this weekend. He could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
In the meantime, Gilman had started a Twitter thread he called COVID CHECK-IN, saying, “Hey healthcare workers across the U.S. Can you check-in and let us know what you're seeing at your hospitals? Your voice is very important! Share as much or little as you like.”
In response, someone identifying themselves as a Florida healthcare worker tweeted on Dec. 5, saying “1 hr north of Orlando Fl-3 weeks ago we had 4 in our Covid unit-now 40+ and blowing up. Also seeing a trend towards younger (20-40s) and they seem to deteriorate even faster... the death rate we’re seeing now is just a warm-up.”
A Seattle healthcare worker tweeted on Dec. 2, “My coworker died from covid a couple weeks ago. We have a lot more covid patients in our hospitals than we’ve had at any point and I’m scared what it will look like in a couple weeks.” And someone identifying themselves as a Chicago healthcare worker tweeted on Dec. 2, “WE NEED MORE RESPIRATORY THERAPIST AND CRITICAL CARE NURSES! We don't have the resources let alone the people needed to take care of patients...We are a quiet sinking ship. ICUs are full ER holding patients cause they can't come up. Intubated 5 in 2hrs. We are tired.”
Should you see a tweet this weekend about the situation at YRMC, you will know that Gilman is back in the emergency room, as wholeheartedly as if somebody called out, “Corpsman up!”