Texas nurse describes ‘The Pit’ in one Covid-overrun hospital where patients go to die

‘I saw a lot of people die that I felt like shouldn’t have died,’ Lawanna Rivers says

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Monday 16 November 2020 15:37
Lawanna Rivers, travelling nurse, detailed the horrific conditions she experienced while working in a hospital in El Paso, Texas
Lawanna Rivers, travelling nurse, detailed the horrific conditions she experienced while working in a hospital in El Paso, Texas
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A travelling nurse based in Texas has described the “horrific” conditions she’s experienced while working in hospitals overrun with Covid-19 patients.

In a 50-minute emotional Facebook Live, nurse Lawanna Rivers criticised University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, and some of the hospital’s doctors for how they were treating those diagnosed with the novel virus.

She claimed doctors sometimes refused to provide treatment to patients.

"We as nurses, it's OK for us to be exposed but you as doctors, you do not even come in there," Ms Rivers said. "You can't get exposed but we can, and y'all are the ones making all the money."

The hospital also has a place nicknamed “The Pit” where the most critical Covid-19 patients go. Ms Rivers said other staff members told her that if a patient goes to “The Pit”, they only come out in a “body bag”.

Due to the number of patients versus hospital staff, the resuscitation policy only allows minimal resuscitation efforts before they are pronounced dead.

"This hospital's policy was they only get three rounds of CPR which was only six minutes, this out of all the codes we had, there is not a single patient that made it," Ms Rivers said.

“I saw a lot of people die that I felt like shouldn’t have died,” she added.

Not only did Ms Rivers accuse the hospital of not providing adequate care to severe Covid-19 patients, but she also claimed that special treatment and privileges were given to VIP patients over others.

“The nurse that orientated me had one patient, she was called the ‘VIP’ patient, she was a doctor’s wife,” Rivers said. “They pulled out all the stops for that woman — there was nothing that they didn’t do for that woman. And guess what? She was the one patient that made it out of that ICU alive.”

Ms Rivers has been travelling across the US since April and worked in hospitals in cities like Arizona, Corpus Christi, Eagle Pass and New York City. But El Paso far surpassed the worse she’s seen compared to any other city.

Texas became the first state to hit one million coronavirus cases, a grim milestone it reached last week. 

The city of El Paso was one of the hardest hit in the state and is currently fighting 32,687 active cases and had 762 recorded deaths. Rising hospitalisations and deaths encouraged city officials to extend a municipal lockdown order and use morgue trucks for the dead bodies. 

“Anybody that knows anything about me knows, I’m not just going to make up something,” Ms Rivers said. “I don’t do anything for ratings. What am I getting out of this? What am I benefiting besides trying to get exposure to help get this situation contained?”

Following her Facebook Live going viral, she’s called for more accountability from the hospital about what’s going on within its coronavirus ward, specifically in “The Pit”.

“These are peoples’ lives,” she said. “I’ve always been a ‘what if’ thinker. What if that was me, what if that was my loved one. I’d want someone to speak up.”

In response to the nurse’s allegations, University Medical Center told KVIA-TV in a statement that they could not “fully verify the events expressed” in her Facebook Live.

“We empathise and sympathise with the difficult, physical and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on thousands of healthcare workers here and throughout our country,” the statement read.

“This particular travel nurse was at UMC briefly to help El Paso confront the surge of Covid-19 patients.”

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