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Texas Hospital Responds to Photo of Patient Wearing a Plastic Bag Over Their Head

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Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, Texas got a lot of unwelcome attention after a photo of a patient with a plastic bag on their head went viral on social media.

The photo was shared by the whistleblower account Odessa’s Accountability Project on Facebook. Now the company is arguing that it did nothing wrong.

A Salacious Scandal

According to the social media post, a 17-year-old woman came into the emergency room complaining of shortness of breath. It says she was “humiliated and dehumanized by the staff” for being made to wear a plastic bag over her head.

The bag label says, “Equipment Cover”, in bold letters with a warning that it could cause suffocation.

“The girl’s mother said she complained of not being able to breath well, taking off the mask, and was asked to put it back on. The bag was over her head for roughly 30 minutes, and she was instructed to save the bag for future use throughout the hospital,” the post reads.

A couple days later, the account posted the same photo saying they have received reports that this a “widespread problem” even though they didn’t back up the claim.

“The hospital to our knowledge is not sticking equipment bags over all of its COVID-19 patients heads… I would say that the hospital is a big place, and the right hand does not always know what the left hand is doing.”

The author then apologizes for posting without giving the facility a chance to explain.

“I unfairly wrote this story without giving the hospital an opportunity to fix an issue they might not have known existed. This being said, the mother of this child will be speaking to hospital administrators today in an effort to work out a resolution ensuring that this does not happen to anyone else in the future.”

Conflicting Accounts

On Oct. 14, the hospital released a statement regarding the photo in question. They said they have spoken with the mother of the patient about her medical care and the use of the plastic drape.

“We were pleased to have the mother reach out to us to address the situation,” said Russell Tippin, MCH CEO. “Our top priority will always be the safety and care of our patients. We are always willing to listen to our patient’s experiences to better communicate with them to make sure they are comfortable.”

The facility added that, per hospital and CDC guidelines, patients must wear a mask at all times within the hospital. In certain cases, a plastic drape may be used to cover COVID-19 patients during transport to prevent airborne transmission of the virus, especially in cramped spaces such as elevators and hallways.

According to the hospital, these circumstances include times when the patient refuses to keep their mask on. However, they said a patient is never left unattended with a drape on and is already on some form of oxygen.

Now that the post has gone viral, the hospital says it has received dozens of threatening emails and phone calls, including threats towards individual staff members and their loved ones as well as bomb threats. The local police department is investigating the situation.

“Rest assured, we take all of these threats seriously and are taking appropriate action,” Tippin added. “Under no circumstances will MCH tolerate such threats to staff members, their families or anyone associated with the health system. Our staff have been true heroes for the past 19 months in battling this pandemic and do not deserve the vicious threats spewed by these hateful individuals.”

Odessa’s Accountability Project posted a follow-up the same day.

“Medical Center Hospital spoke to the girl’s family and stated that patient care was their top priority. They also stated that she was confused, exaggerated the situation and that they would continue to put bags over people’s heads as they felt that it was the best way to protect everyone concerned,” it reads.

The post goes on to say that the girl was wearing a mask, so there’s no reason for her to be wearing a bag over her head.

“They put a nasal cannula on her but failed to hook the hose up to oxygen. She was in this state for about 30 minutes and repeatedly stated that she was struggling to breath. When her mother asked if this was necessary, they told her it was protocol. The mother was under duress due to the condition of her daughter and did not feel she had time to shop for another place and believed that her daughter’s life depended on the people at MCH.”

The account added that an EMT reached out to explain their side of the story.

According to the post:

“She [the EMT] stated that it was one of the most inhumane things she has had to do in her job so far. She was called to Medical Center Hospital to transport an 80-year-old patient back to the nursing home. She was handed a plastic bag that read, ‘equipment cover’, just like the one in the photo and [was] told to place it over the patient’s head.”

“She said, ‘no way!’ The nurse told her that if she did not place the bag over the patient’s head that she would be reported and not allowed to do the transport. Reluctantly she complied and got the elderly patient outdoors and removed the bag as quickly as she possibly could. She stated that this took roughly 7-10 minutes. She further stated that she found MCH’s statement to the press to be inaccurate. The patient was not hooked to oxygen, and she had on a mask yet was required to have a bag placed over her head,” the post says.

It’s not clear which version of events is true, but the patient in the photo appears to have been left unattended with a bag on their head. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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