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Doctor suspended from work for wearing a mask

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EL PASO, Texas — A doctor and anesthesiologist at University Medical Center is set to return to work after he was suspended for wearing an N95 respirator mask in a hallway of the hospital.

Dr. Henrik Nikicicz told ABC-7 that he put on the mask when he saw a group of people walking towards him in an effort to protect himself, because he suffers from asthma and hypertension.

“Since I know that in El Paso the virus was already here, the virus is in the community, I took the steps to protect myself against Covid-19 infection,” Dr. Nikicicz said in an interview with ABC-7.

Several days after that incident, Dr. Nikicicz said he was told his job was at risk because of a policy prohibiting the use of protective masks in public areas – a claim UMC disputes.

Dr. Nikicicz was removed from the work schedule, effectively suspending him without pay. But the New York Times reported that Dr. Nikicicz was put back on the schedule after it contacted UMC for comment.

A UMC spokesman acknowledged to ABC-7 on Tuesday that Dr. Nikicicz was removed from the schedule, but he said it was only for one day. The spokesman said the action was taken by Somnia Anesthesia – a firm the hospital contracts with to provide anesthesiologists, including Dr. Nikicicz.

“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.,” the spokesman said, adding he couldn’t comment further because it was a personnel matter.

The Times reported Tuesday that Dr. Nikicicz is among numerous frightened doctors across the country who have been disciplined for challenging local hospitals over rules on protective gear.

Dr. Nikicicz told ABC-7 that he will now be allowed to wear a surgical mask around the hospital when he returns to work next week.

The UMC spokesman said the hospital allows simple surgical masks to be worn in hallways, just not the N95 because it is trying to conserve those – as are many hospitals – due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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