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May 11, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8741

Three Russian Whistleblower-Physicians Report Frustration Over Shortages And Cover-Ups On The Coronavirus Front

May 11, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8741

The coronavirus crisis has taken a toll on the Russian authorities' reputation including the reputation of Vladimir Putin. Russia was not the only country to contend with shortages in vital medical supplies, it however had projected itself as a competent and efficient authoritarian system and this narrative was challenged by the crisis.[1] Unlike China[2], Russia has been less successful in shutting down independent reporting on the crisis that is unflattering to the regime. Yelizabeta Kipranova, a correspondent for the independent Novayagazeta.ru outlet, has published a series of articles on Russia's handling of the coronavirus. In the article below, Kipranova reports the complaints of three Russian whistleblower-physicians, who exposed the equipment shortages and then faced harassment from their superiors, officialdom and law enforcement bodies.

Excerpts from Kipranova's report follow below:[3]

 
Yelizabeta Kipranova (Source: Echo.Msk.ru)

"For over a month now, Russian doctors are reporting that they lack personal protective equipment against coronavirus. Even the most ordinary medical masks are in short supply, not to mention respirators and special anti-plague suits. The independent “Doctors Alliance” trade union claims that three hundred hospitals reported the lack of protective equipment. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally recognized the existence of the problem. The head of state proposed the creation of a special federal protective equipment reserve so that 'it would be possible to provide assistance in an expeditious manner'.

"Three doctors talk openly about shortages of protective equipment, pressure from superior officials and the role of law enforcement agencies.

Natalya Trofimova, general practitioner at the Priozersky inter-district hospital (Leningrad oblast)

"… About a week before April 3, we’ve learned that second building of our hospital will be designated for an infectious diseases infirmary. [Hospital] management did not inform ordinary employees. The head and senior nurses could not give a coherent answer.

Later, documents appeared, that after reading them the doctors' hair stood on end. For example [the guidelines were that] for 150 beds, we needed 48 ventilation devices and about the same number of resuscitators. This is despite the fact that in our hospital there are only 7 anesthetists and 11 ventilation devices (of which only 5 work) …. [According to the documents] our hospital should also have four pulmonologists - we simply have none. In addition, four infectious disease specialists are required [for the infectious diseases infirmary]. There are only two of them in the hospital, and they refuse to go to work. At the moment, we have assembled one understaffed team to begin work on a rotational basis.

"… We didn’t even have regular medical masks, not to mention glasses, respirators, anti-plague suits and shoe covers.

"Since the authorities could not answer our questions, we decided to write a petition. In three hours, 66 employees signed it. (...)

"The next day, representatives of the regional health committee came to us, gathered the hospital team and said that this [petition] was a “fake”. (…) We asked them the same questions as in the petition, but did not receive a response.

"The same day, Alexei Waldenberg, one of the committee representatives, tried to persuade me to withdraw our petition. They tried to put pressure on me so that I will quit my job. Then they said that I would be fired temporarily or transferred to the clinic. But none of this happened. All this time I worked in the therapeutic department and treated my patients.

"Moreover, the committee workers said that they had walker around the hospital and our preparedness (to receive coronavirus patients) allegedly constituted 70%. This really got to us. How can there be such preparedness when there are no protective devices, no machines, no oxygen tanks and no staff...

"A pneumonia department was opened on the second floor of the hospital. Patients with coronavirus symptoms were brought there. The department is absolutely unsuitable for such patients, because it is located in a regular building (hospital management is on the same floor). There are no isolated rooms for the patients. (...)

"On April 3, a foreign worker in serious condition was brought to o hospital. He was transported without protective equipment. Four days later, the ambulance driver fell ill. Later the paramedic and the dispatcher, with whom the driver spoke, got sick too. Then the nurse (who worked with this patient) and two surgical nurses fell ill.

"…According to all epidemiological standards, it was necessary on that very same day to shut down the department for quarantine and to explain to the employees that they should not have contact with other departments. None of this has been done…"

Irina Volkhonova, a neurologist at a private medical clinic in Yaroslavl, member of the [independent] "Doctors Alliance" trade union

“Currently I’m on a vacation, and I am assisting medical workers who lack personal protective equipment. I was contacted by employees of about 20 hospitals in the Yaroslavl region. (...)

"In almost all medical facilities, the situation is developing as a carbon copy. Some employees work without protective equipment; some were sent on unpaid leave. Patients and doctors are not being tested [for coronavirus] enough. Many cases are simply not being registered [as coronavirus infection]. The president and the government promised to pay extra for work with coronavirus patients. But the Yaroslavl Department of Health said that instead of 80 thousand rubles, they would pay only 4 thousand rubles. And only to those doctors whose patients have been diagnosed [with coronavirus], and this is far from happening with all of them. Therefore, those doctors who are dealing with ambulant cases of pneumonia are not compensated...

"Many doctors are afraid to talk about problems and to defend their rights. In the two hospitals where I brought the protective equipment, I was asked to not publish the information, that they’ve received the help from the Doctors Alliance”. Because in that case they will forbid the employees to use what I handed over to them..."

Tatyana Revva, resuscitation specialist at the Central Clinical Hospital in Kalach-on-Don (Volgograd oblast)

"There have been problems in my hospital for several years, and not all of them are due to COVID-19. According to documents, we must have seven mechanical ventilators. We have only three, two of which are worn out, (they were in service for 22 years, although their service life is seven years).

"There are no reagents in the laboratory. We cannot perform basic vital blood tests.

"During the year, I verbally and in writing addressed the head doctor… I understood that if a patient with a new infection comes to us, we will have problems. I wrote a letter to the “Doctors Alliance” trade union, then I gave it publicity. Only then did work in hospital begin, and management began to stir…"

"Two days after the publication of my video, the auditing commission arrived and drew up an inspection report. The report stated that the hospital has medical masks, shoe covers, gloves and [protective] hats, 130 liters of disinfectant (which was strange since we have not seen even a liter of disinfectant all year long) …"

"After the letter was published, I had to provide explanations to law enforcement agencies several times. The head doctor saw a screenshot of my appeal on the Internet in one of the local social networks and wrote a statement to the police…he also contacted the prosecutor's office and said that I intentionally was spreading panic.

"The prosecutor's office [argued that my actions fall under] the article 13.15 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (abuse of freedom of the media). I was again summoned to the police, I gave an explanation with a lawyer and backed up my statements with all the documents. It was quiet for a few weeks, but on April 21, the investigator called and said that I needed to be questioned as part of an inspection of the medical institutions and officials. Prior to the interview, the investigator warned me about the law 'on fake news'.

"This whole situation makes me very angry. I do not understand why we should be silent. All health workers must protect their colleagues and make the problems public – this is the only way to change anything in Russia."

 

[2] Nytimes.com, May 4, 2020.

[3] Novayagazeta.ru, April 25, 2020.

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