NYU hospital to coronavirus doctors, nurses: Don't tell media about mask shortage

NYU Grossman’s School of Medicine are telling their faculty doctors that they must seek approval from administrator higher ups before speaking with the media..

Organizations like FIRE and the ACLU are speaking out against measures like this, saying it restricts free speech.

New York City is no doubt the hardest-hit U.S. city by the COVID-19 pandemic so far. 

New York, officially the epicenter of the outbreak, has publicly touted its need for more medical professionals, protective gear, and resources to fight the spread of the disease. Despite this, some medical professionals are being required to seek approval from hospital and university administration before speaking with the press. 

The New York University Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone Health, a premier academic medical center, now requires faculty doctors to obtain express approval from the Office of Communications and Marketing at NYU Langone Health Center before answering any media requests regarding COVID-19 and the lack of resources they need to safely do their jobs. 

“Anyone who does not adhere to this policy, or who speaks or disseminates information to the media without explicit permission of the Office of Communication and Marketing will be subject to disciplinary action including termination” Kathy Lewis, executive vice president for communications and marketing, wrote in an email March 28, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The email was addressed to the medical faculty and staff of the NYU Grossman Department of Population Health.

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Since the order was published by the university administration, civil rights advocacy organizations began expressing their disapproval of the measure. Among these organizations expressing concern is the free speech nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. 

In an open letter to NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Executive Vice President,  FIRE urges the institution to rescind its decision and reminds NYU that restricting faculty in such a way goes against societal values. 

“Requiring faculty to obtain permission before speaking to the press is antithetical to the values of our free society,” FIRE asserts. 

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Not only does FIRE believe that this order violates the values of a free society, but it also claims that withholding information from the public could put the country at risk.

“It is precisely in times of crisis that it is most important that lines of communication to the public be open,” Robert Shibley, FIRE’s executive director said, “These faculty members are there because they’re the experts. Inhibiting their ability to communicate important information about COVID-19 presents enormous risks.” 

FIRE is not alone, however, in its advocacy against such efforts by hospitals and institutions of higher learning to limit the dissemination of information to the media. On March 27, various medical, research, and civil rights organizations called on the American Hospital Association  to condemn any efforts to restrict the flow of information. 

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“Attempts to cover up these shortages by muzzling health care workers who are on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic are reprehensible and reckless and endanger public health,” the open letter to the AHA stated, “Although such actions may be commonplace in countries with authoritarian regimes, they are not acceptable in the U.S.”

Signed onto the open letter were the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union and the  American Medical Student Association. Dozens of other organizations also signed the letter. 

Campus Reform reached out to the Office of Communications and Marketing at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone Health to ask how it has responded to the calls to action to rescind the decision. 

Spokesman Robert Magyar told Campus Reform, “The purpose of this policy also is to protect the confidentiality of our patients, and our staff, particularly as we respond to this unprecedented crisis. Because information related to coronavirus is constantly evolving, it is in the best interest of our staff and the institution that only those with the most updated information are permitted to address these issues with the media.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @cam_deckr