On November 7, 2020, Lawanna Rivers, a traveling nurse who worked at the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) released a video on Facebook where she alleged that El Paso Covid-19 patients at UMC who were “put into the ‘pit’ only leave in body bags.” The video was first reported in El Paso by KTSM.
UMC responded to KTSM’s request for comment about the video with “after watching the video, while we cannot verify the thoughts and events expressed, we sympathize with the difficult, physical and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on thousands of healthcare workers here and throughout the country.
El Paso Politics reported on the video in an article about the disproportional care for Covid-19 for minorities that seemed to exist on November 16, 2020. The following day, an El Paso nurse responded to our article where they clarified “the pit” and explained how rationing care works.
On November 30, 2020, UMC released a press release addressing the allegations made by the traveling nurse. In their press release, UMC acknowledged that the Texas Health and Human Services initiated an announced visit of UMC because of the allegations raised by the nurse.
According to UMC, the investigators found no violations during their visit.
UMC also addressed “the pit”. According to UMC, the pit is an open area where Covid-19 patients “are receiving an elevated level of care.” [emphasis in original]
Open Records Request
El Paso Politics wanted to know how much the UMC Board of Managers knew about the traveling nurse’s allegations. We filed an open records request on January 27, 2021 asking for documents and communications between the Board of Managers and selected UMC officials about the nurse between November 1, 2020 and November 22.
On February 12, 2021, we received a response to our open records request.
In their response, UMC states that Jacob Cintron, CEO of UMC, sent two emails to the UMC board members. The first email was on November 12 and the second email was sent the following day.
In the first email, Cintron advises the board that the nurse’s video “was picked up by local media, KTSM.” Cintron wrote to the board that “it should be noted that this traveling nurse may have been more adversely affected due to not having a similar level of experience working in the area of care as her peers at UMC.”
Cintron wrote to the board that UMC “will work with our State liaisons to ensure that travel nurses are more properly selected and assigned.”
Cintron added that UMC does “not have the ability to have the video removed.”
In the second email to the board, Jacob Cintron wrote to the board members that “we anticipate a few more days of media interest” in the video.
Cintron provided the board members with the initial media statement reported by KVIA and KTSM soon after the video was reported on by both stations. Cintron also provided the board members with four suggested responses, in case a board member was asked by the news media about the video.
The responses included that nurses at UMC are “very upset and disheartened,” “we view her video as an insult to the high standards of care,” “it was determined that she did not have the experience level” and that UMC would work with liaisons “to ensure that travel nurses are more properly selected.”
Previously Undisclosed Information
In his email, Cintron also provided the board with background that was not disclosed to the public.
The first is that the nurse was at UMC “for 2.5 weeks.”
The second is that the nurse, although “leads people to believe that she worked in a similar environment in New York,” the reality is this is “inaccurate.”
The final item is that “the nurse was relieved from her duties prior to her departure for reasons not included” in the email notification to the board members.
According to the open records request we submitted; it appears that the UMC’s Board of Managers were aware of the allegations made by the nurse, but there appears no discussion about the allegations were had by the board in November 2020.