El Paso doctor suspended over face mask dispute at UMC; hospital responds

Coronavirus

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — An El Paso doctor at University Medical Center has been reinstated after the New York Times reported he was effectively suspended for wearing an N95 respirator face mask in a hospital hallway.

Dr. Henry Nikicicz is an anesthesiologist for Somnia, a company that works with UMC. He told KTSM the dispute erupted last Wednesday after he finished a procedure on a patient.

“I was walking in a hallway and I saw a group of people,” Nikicicz said. “I put on my face mask.”

Nikicicz said he later received a text message from his boss telling him that the hospital’s CEO, Jacob Cintron, saw him with the mask and believed he was “scaring the people.”

The doctor said the next day, he was told Cintron requested his firing. Shortly thereafter, Nikicicz said his name was no longer on the schedule.

“I was suspended for insubordination,” the doctor said.

Nikicicz got in touch with reporters—including one with the New York Times—and after the press contacted the hospital, the suspension was reversed.

“I was told I was reinstated,” he said.

UMC provided KTSM a statement reading, in part:

The anesthesiologist was told on numerous occasions by his supervisor to not wear the N95 surgical mask while not in the Operating Room area or while not treating patients with infectious disease. He was wearing the N95 in common areas, general hallways, etc.

UMC is not unlike other hospitals in its efforts to conserve N95 surgical masks, especially when it comes to wearing them when not in the surgical/OR area and not treating patients.

At the time of these incidents, the CDC did not require masks (and certainly not N95 masks) to be used by hospital staff (or anyone else) when not treating patients or while not in surgical/OR areas.

Beyond this, we view this as a personnel matter between Somnia Anesthesia and its contracted anesthesiologist.

UMC added it welcomes the use and wear of masks throughout the facility, “especially simple surgical masks in public hallways.”

Nikicicz, who is 60 years old, told the New York Times he has asthma and hypertension.

“The hospitals seem to care more about their image than about their health care workers,” he said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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