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‘That Assignment Broke Me’: Travel Nurse Says Sickest COVID Patients In El Paso Hospital Are Left to Die In ‘Pit’ Where Doctors Refuse to Enter

A travel nurse who worked in an El Paso, Texas, hospital overrun by COVID-19 patients recently posted an emotional video on Facebook Live describing the horrific conditions under which the sickest patients were cared for.

Lawanna Rivers, a 44-year-old registered nurse with 13 years of experience who completed an assignment treating COVID-19 patients at University Medical Center in El Paso, said the sickest patients were put in a “pit” where doctors refused to enter, and left to die.

“That assignment there broke me,” Rivers said, in the video posted Nov. 7.

Lawanna Rivers. (Photo: Facebook)

“I was put in what’s called a pit, eight patients, all COVID positive. I was told my first day of orientation that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag.”

She said they were instructed to perform only three rounds, or six minutes of CPR on the patients in the pit, while she is accustomed to spending as long as 45 minutes to an hour performing life-saving measures on a patient. According to Rivers, who worked 12-hour shifts at the hospital, doctors refused to enter the area. Out of all the patients treated in the pit during Rivers’ time there, no patients survived a code.

“I saw a lot of people die that I feel shouldn’t have died,” Rivers said.

Rivers said a body was stored with living patients in the pit at one point after the morgue ran out of room.

“They had to bring in freezer trucks because it’s so many bodies,” Rivers said tearfully.

She said the experience nearly “destroyed” her and that she hadn’t seen anything like what she saw in El Paso since she began completing COVID assignments in April. She said she saw more deaths during her time in Texas than in her entire 13-year nursing career. El Paso was her fifth COVID deployment.

The video of Rivers sharing her experience has been viewed more than 200,000 times.

UMC spokesman Ryan Mielke issued a statement in response to the 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,” Mielke said.

El Paso has became one of the latest COVID hotspots. Over the past two weeks, an average of 23 people have died from the virus each day in the city.

Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 15, there were 23,000 new recorded cases of coronavirus in El Paso.

Incarcerated individuals in Texas are paid $2 an hour to work in morgues inundated by COVID patients, and the city’s convention center has recently been converted into a a field hospital to accommodate the continuously increasing number of sick patients.

Rivers said she has been tested for the virus since she returned home, and she continues to wear a mask in her house.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reporting by the morning of Thursday, Nov. 19, that El Paso was recording 9,065 cases for every 100,000 people.

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