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Healthcare workers say some COVID-19 patients and their families are demanding unapproved therapies

A nurse checks in on a COVID-19 patient at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida, on August 19, 2020.

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

  • COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise across the US. 
  • Healthcare workers have said they’re burnt out and overwhelmed, two years into the pandemic. 
  • Frontline workers are also facing patients and their families seeking unproven treatments. 

Healthcare workers say COVID-19 patients and their families are demanding unproven COVID-19 treatments — and in some cases they are getting threats.

“Folks act as if they can come into the hospital and request any certain therapy they want or conversely decline any therapy that they want with the idea being that somehow they can pick and choose and direct their therapy and it doesn’t work,” Dr. Jack Lyons, a physician at St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota, told CNN. 

Nikki Motta, a travel nurse who has spent the pandemic working in hospitals along the East Coast, told Insider that she’s had patients and their families come in and request medications like ivermectin that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 treatment. 

“I think many times patients who are admitted to the hospital that have not chosen to become vaccinated decide that the information that’s out there that they’ve received regarding vaccination and treatment plans can be utilized in the same space as a research-based facility and unfortunately, a lot of times that’s not the case,” Motta said.

Motta said that hospitals normally have their own research protocols for medication, and medical practitioners across several fields, from pharmacists to infectious disease experts, come together to decide a plan of care using “top-level” evidence. 

“If things have not been proven to be effective [or that] sometimes can have more harm than good happen to the patient that is taking them, then typically we will not give it to them,” Motta said. 

Another travel nurse, who spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said she’s had patients and their families threaten her for not using unapproved treatments.

“I’ve had patients or their family members accuse me of trying to kill them when we don’t use the medications that they want us to use,” the nurse told Insider, adding that it’s demoralizing and tiring to go from being called a “healthcare hero” at the beginning of the pandemic, to now being accused of trying to “kill people and lying to people.”

Motta said in many encounters patients tend to understand where healthcare workers are coming from once she explains the misinformation around unproven treatments. 

“There’s a lot of disinformation out there about the benefits to some of these medications. So it’s very confusing for people to navigate as well,” Motta said. 

Lyons told CNN that families of patients have “hurtfully” said that by not using these therapies the hospital is “intentionally trying to harm the people that we’ve given everything to save.” 

He said that in one instance a patient’s family under a pseudonym sent a threat to the hospital that said “people are coming for you.”

This comes at a time when cases and hospitalizations across the US are on the rise, and healthcare workers are bracing for more strain on the hospital system during the holidays.

Healthcare workers previously told Insider that they’re burnt out and overwhelmed. For some, constantly seeing people die for the past two years has been mentally overwhelming, and they don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel from the pandemic. 

One described it like the movie “Groundhog Day.”

“It’s also very difficult because there’s still a lot of misconception and disinformation amongst our patient population,” Motta said. “So patients that come in that were unvaccinated that contracted COVID-19 and want to feel some sort of relief — it’s very difficult to explain to them that that is not going to happen in an instant and they may need some other more serious interventions before they get better, if they get better.”

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