A nurse in a strained El Paso hospital says the sickest COVID-19 patients are put in a doctor-less room called ‘the pit’ where they are given 3 chances to be revived before workers let them die

  • Travel nurse Lawanna Rivers recently recorded a Facebook Live video, where she described her experience treating COVID-19 patients at the University Medical Center of El Paso.

  • The city has emerged as a new hotspot of the virus, as the nation battles a third wave of the outbreak

  • In the video, Rivers said the hospital’s sickest COVID-19 patients were put in a “pit” that doctors don’t enter for fear of exposing themselves to the virus.

  • “My first day at orientation, I was told that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag,” she said, adding that this posting has been her worst during the pandemic.

  • The hospital told KFOX 14 it “cannot fully verify the events expressed” in Rivers’ video but acknowledged the “difficult, physical and emotional toll” the pandemic has taken on health workers.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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A travel nurse has described the “horrific” scene at one hospital in El Paso, Texas, a city that has emerged as a new hotspot as the weathers its third and likely deadliest wave of the coronavirus.

In a nearly hourlong Facebook Live video published last Saturday, Lawanna Rivers said that she had served five postings at various hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her time at the University Medical Center of El Paso was by far the worst. 

“Out of all the COVID assignments I’ve been on, this one here has really left me emotionally scarred,” she said. “The facility I’m at has surpassed the one I was at in New York.” New York was the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring.

Rivers was most upset about how the sickest patients at the hospital were treated. She said they were all put into an area called a “pit,” where they are essentially left to die. 

“My first day at orientation, I was told that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag,” Rivers said.

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A nurse enters a tent for coronavirus patients at the University Medical Center of El Paso on October 30, 2020. Cengiz Yar/Getty Images

Rivers said doctors at the hospital would not enter the area, and nurses like herself who were stationed in them were under orders to perform CPR just three times on a patient before letting them die. 

Rivers said she learned that doctors wouldn’t enter the pit when she called a physician for help one day with a patient who was bleeding profusely. She said the doctor told her they don’t go into the rooms for the sickest COVID-19 patients, so as to not expose themselves to the disease.

In the three-and-a-half weeks that she was at the hospital, Rivers said she never once saw a doctor go into a COVID-19 pit.

“The doctors don’t even step foot in those COVID rooms to see those patients …We as nurses, it’s OK for us to be exposed, but you as doctors, you don’t even come in there. You can’t get exposed, but we can and y’all are making all the money,” she said. 

Rivers said that she volunteered to work in a pit every day, hoping that continuity of care would help her patients get better — but that it didn’t matter because they were too sick by that point. 

Rivers said she believes that if the patients had received better care earlier on, it may have made a difference. 

“I have never experienced, and have no words, for what I just experienced in El Paso, Texas,” she said. “If those doctors there would aggressively treat those patients from the beginning, a lot more would make it.”

Rivers also accused the hospital of giving special treatment to the wife of a doctor once. She said this woman, whom a nurse at one point called a “VIP” patient, was the only person to make it out of the ICU alive during her nearly a month at the hospital. 

“They pulled out all the stops for that woman, it was nothing that they didn’t do for that woman. And guess what? She was the one patient that made it out of the ICU alive, and was able to downgrade to a longterm acute care. So you mean to tell me because she’s a doctor’s wife, her life meant more than any of those other patients?”

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The University Medical Center of El Paso. Google Street View

In another shocking testimony, Rivers described how a worker once wheeled in a dead body into her unit because the morgue was full.

“The morgue was so full of bodies that they had ran out of room, so once the doors opened to the pit they come wheeling in a body already in a bag,” she said.

“Lined ’em up with the rest of our alive patients, because they had to store the body in there, because the morgue was out of room. They’ve had to bring in freezer trucks because there’s so many bodies.”

Rivers said that she left her assignment in El Paso early because she couldn’t bear to watch more patients die.

“I’ve seen so many deaths in this last month, than I’ve seen in my entire 13-year career,” Rivers said.

She said she was also afraid for her life, and the kind of care she would receive if she got sick there. 

“I kept saying: ‘I can’t get sick here in Texas, because if I get COVID here in Texas … I’m going to die. It was that bad,” she said.

Business Insider has contacted the University Medical Center of El Paso for comment.

The hospital has been releasing the same statement to local outlets about Rivers’ video.

“After watching the video, while we cannot fully verify the events expressed, we empathize and sympathize with the difficult, physical and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on thousands of healthcare workers here and throughout our country,” hospital spokesman Ryan Mielke said in the statement, according to KFOX 14.

“This particular travel nurse was at UMC briefly to help El Paso confront the surge of COVID-19 patients.”

Watch Rivers’ full 50-minute Facebook Live video below: 

Texas currently has the most coronavirus cases in the US, according to Worldometer, and El Paso county has the third-most infections in the state, according to the Texas health department.

Earlier this month the county doubled its number of mobile morgues — which are typically refrigerated trucks — to store COVID-19 victims’ bodies, and KFOX 14 reported that patients were dying at such a rate that medical examiners have not been able to keep up.

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