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Behind the Mask: Hospital manager quits her job to return to the front line during pandemic

After 20 years and working her way up to a management role at a health care facility, Regina Simpson left her job to return to being a respiratory therapist.

INDIANAPOLIS — For-profit hospitals are a business. Regina Simpson knows that firsthand. Prior to the pandemic, the respiratory therapist had worked her way up to a management position. She said most of the administrators in her previous place of employment were "looking at the bottom line to make more money to profit."

"Money was always the first talk of the day. It was our first meeting. 'Who had insurance? Who didn’t have insurance? Who was able to private pay? We can make more money if we can bring in this type of patient versus this type of patient,'" Simpson said."When it came to the pandemic, all of that was out the window for me."

She said as a respiratory therapist and as a manager, her top priority during the pandemic was the safety of her patients, her workers and their families.

She said her efforts to ensure the safety of her employees and patients weren't being heard. "It was absolutely, trying to cut here and there. And I understand, but we're in a pandemic," Simpson said.

She said those daily meetings were becoming increasingly stressful during the pandemic because administrators weren't listening to the guidance or concerns of health care workers or managers who have had experience working directly with patients.

Simpson said it was different in the beginning of the pandemic.

"Nobody knew what COVID-19 was or how to take care of COVID-19 patients. And every day you were learning something new, and even till this day it's the same way," Simpson said. "At the beginning it was 'OK, let's bring in these patients but no, we're not going to separate those patients (COVID-19 patients). We're just going to mix everybody,'" she said.

Direct care workers were initially set to care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Simpson said that was a mistake.

She felt her employer was not giving her and her colleagues the support they needed to keep the virus from spreading. At the time, that meant isolation. But there was one particular day that was the last straw for Simpson.

"I walked out of a meeting when the administrator of our facility would not provide N95 (masks) for the employees of the facility. I was almost in tears in that meeting," Simpson said. "I walked out, slammed the door...at that point, I was done."

"After I walked out of that meeting crying, one of the administrators came to my office and said, 'We'll get your staff what they need.' So, for the respiratory therapists, absolutely from that point on, they did provide the N95 mask for them. But why should I have to go to battle? Why should I have to go to war? Why should I have to be brought to tears to get them what they need?" Simpson said.

Credit: Regina Simpson
Regina Simpson left her management role at a health care facility to return to the front lines as a respiratory therapist.

After 15 years of working for the facility, she handed in her 30-day notice.

"The stress of that, and the risk I was putting myself and my kids and my family, wasn't worth the risk if I wasn't going to be heard," Simpson said.

But quitting didn't mean leaving the medical profession for Simpson. It meant finding a new home where she was able to care for her patients, herself and her family to the best of her ability during a global pandemic.

"The new facility had a COVID unit, so COVID patients were able to be taken care of apart from non-COVID patients," Simpson said. 

She said her new place of employment made sure all health care workers had all the PPE they needed and also had access to vitamins. She said it made her feel as though her new employer truly cared.

Simpson said she didn't want to just stay in health care. She wanted to go where she felt she could make the greatest impact — the front line.

"I wanted to be there to be able to take care of patients," Simpson said.

She said caring for COVID-19 patients had changed everything, especially as she tries her best to keep her family, including her asthmatic son, safe. She said she gets her strength to keep fighting from her faith.

"It’s in God's hands. We just have to do the work that he puts us there to do and the rest is up to Him," Simpson said.

Even though the state is opening up, Simpson said the concern regarding the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 is still very real.

"Those were politicians that made that decision to open things back up. And it could have been controlled if we mandated masks (earlier)," Simpson said.

Credit: Regina Simpson
With an asthmatic son, respiratory therapist Regina Simpson chose to have her kids do e-learning instead of in-person schooling.

Simpson said even though schools are offering in-person teaching, her kids are doing e-learning.

"I just can't take that risk of putting (my son) in school full-time and such a confined space for eight hours a day, five days a week," Simpson said.

She said that in her 23 years as a respiratory therapist, this pandemic is unlike anything she has ever seen.

"It still seems surreal," Simpson said.

She said the scary side of COVID-19 is that it can't be defined, but the positive side is that there are people who are recovering. "It's not just the horror stories of the count of the death toll," Simpson said.

She said masks are important to stopping the spread.

"Wearing a face mask is not a whole lot to ask versus having an endo tube down your throat and on a ventilator," Simpson said.

She said the push back from people who don't think the virus is real or those who are against wearing masks infuriates her.

"It truly does infuriate me because I’m putting myself and my son at risk to take care of these patients, and then you have this group of people who feel like they shouldn't have to do anything to protect themselves or protect us," Simpson said. "If you don't care about yourself, at least care about the next person."

Simpson said wearing a mask isn’t about violating people’s rights or telling someone what to do with their body, it’s about protecting your fellow human being.

"We know just by me working in a hospital and working with these patients and all I’m using is a mask, and I haven’t been tested as COVID positive nor have I brought it home to my family, thank God. So we know it does help," Simpson said. "If it doesn’t 100 percent prevent it, it does reduce it."

She said she wants to encourage people to wear a mask or stay home.