EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Two nurses who work at a West El Paso hospital claim a supervisor made inappropriate comments to them and are encouraging the hospital to tighten policies on racism and discrimination. 

Maricruz Barroteran and Patricia Lopez are registered nurses on the telemetry unit at Las Palmas, which is near the UTEP campus.

Barroteran and Lopez said in late June they were at a nurse’s station discussing the surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida, noting Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed the rise in cases was due to migrant farmworkers from Mexico. The two further discussed whether the surge was possibly due to bars and beaches being opened. 

The nurses said the unit’s charge nurse joined the conversation and made racist comments. 

“She told us, ‘If you guys hate it so much here, get back in your boat and go across the river again’,” Barroteran told KTSM 9 News.

Lopez says she responded to the statement and said, “You do know I was born here, right?” 

Barroteran and Lopez say they were bothered by what happened and followed the hospital’s policy: report to the director, make statements, report the incident to the charge nurse’s supervisor, and forward statements to the ethics supervisor. 

A meeting was scheduled with Las Palmas’ human resource department, where Barroteran and Lopez said they were blamed for provoking the supervisor’s comments.

“They wanted to shift the blame to us, saying we shouldn’t have been talking about politics, when that’s not what we were talking about at all,” said Barroteran. 

“We were talking about COVID cases.”

In a statement sent to KTSM 9 News, Las Palmas Chief Nursing Officer Jerry Gonzalez said the situation was thoroughly investigated and appropriate disciplinary action was taken. 

“Las Palmas-Del Sol Healthcare does not tolerate racism or any other form of discrimination. We believe excellence in healthcare starts with a foundation of inclusion, compassion and respect for each other and our patients, and the language in the reported conversation does not represent these values,” read the statement. 

“The claim that no action was taken against the charge nurse is inaccurate,” the statement continues. 

Barroteran and Lopez told KTSM 9 News they never claimed that no action was taken against the charge nurse, but instead believe the hospital’s disciplinary action does not correspond to the behavior.

“The supervisor kind of got what we felt like was a slap on the hand. Instead of this hospital supporting us, there was no sense that we feel they enforce a zero-tolerance policy. We feel like they pushed the blame back on us,” says Barroteran. 

The nurses say the environment on the unit has been tense since the incident and that Lopez has faced retaliation. 

According to Lopez, she was unfairly singled-out and written up a few days after the hearing. 

“Even the other nurses asked ‘Well, are we going to receive write-ups because we had the same situation happen?’ and they said ’No,’” Lopez said. “They couldn’t really give us a reason as to why. But to us, it felt like retaliation.”

In the statement sent to KTSM 9 News, Gonzalez said Las Palmas-Del Sol Healthcare will continue to provide a safe environment and is devoted to continuing to find ways to promote inclusivity. 

Barroteran and Lopez say they and many other nurses on their unit turned in a petition on Tuesday, imploring the hospital to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on racism and discrimination. 

The nurses have also been distributing and wearing stickers on their badges that read, “Racism is a Disease,” in solidarity. 

“We hope that if this were to happen again, that the hospital would have our side and hold people accountable,” said Barroteran. 

“Because we feel like that was not the case this time.”