A few days ago, anesthesiologist Nikicicz stepped off the elevator at 6:30 a.m., after intubating a patient in his 70s with a respiratory illness.

A few days later, Nikicicz was informed that he might be suspended, because the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, where he worked, banned the use of masks in hospital hallways.

Anesthesiologist Henry Nikicicz at University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, USA.

`Wearing a mask is essential for me,` Nikicicz, 60, who suffers from asthma and hypertension, said in an interview.

Not only Nikicicz, medical staff and administrators of several other hospitals are also having controversy around the mask, about whether they should wear it outside the treatment room or not?

Many hospitals allow masks to be worn outside of treatment rooms, and even require staff to do so.

American doctors fight to wear masks

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has changed its guidance for medical facilities several times.

On March 31, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a senior member of the federal government’s Covid-19 response team, said that the CDC is still considering guidelines related to whether ordinary people should wear masks.

Amid the confusion and fear, doctors and nurses say they are forced to rely on their own judgment.

Some doctors believe that hospital management prohibits doctors from wearing masks because they are simply looking to protect their image.

When Dr. Nikicicz insisted on wearing a mask, he received a text message from the head of anesthesiology, accusing him of overreacting.

On March 30, the hospital confirmed in a notice that `Dr. Nikicicz was removed from the work schedule for non-compliance with regulations.`

Ming Lin, an emergency room physician, wrote on Facebook that on March 27, he was laid off from his job at PeaceHealth St.

In Seattle, management at Swedish Medical Center’s Cherry Hill facility threatened to indefinitely suspend anesthesiologist Oliver Small for wearing a mask when not directly involved in patient care, e.g.

`He was called into a meeting with hospital management because they didn’t want to panic the staff thinking they needed to wear protective masks,` Jessica Green, Dr. Small’s wife, wrote on Facebook last week.

American medical staff move Covid-19 patients onto ambulance stretchers in Washington state earlier this month.

The board of directors told Small to stop wearing a mask, otherwise he would no longer need to go to the hospital.

Small confirmed the story but added that the hospital later changed its stance on masks and he felt `very satisfied` with the results.

Controversy over wearing masks is showing a problem in the US healthcare system, according to experts.

`Over the past few decades, we’ve been losing our autonomy,` said Christopher Garofalo, a family physician in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, who once served as a state representative to the American Medical Association.

According to him, more than half of doctors today are employees of hospital systems or large corporations.

Jim Merlino, an administrator at the Cleveland Clinic, said he is aware that some doctors at his hospital and across the country are panicking, but he believes this is not the majority.

`People are worried and what we need to do is send a clear message: It’s okay to be worried, but let’s accept that we’re making the right decisions,` Merlino said.

Cleveland Clinic also requires doctors and nurses not to wear masks outside the treatment room.

However, many other hospital managers do not share his opinion.

`We advise doctors and nurses to wear masks when working. This practice should be applied in open spaces of hospitals,` the new guidance notes.

Vu Hoang (According to the New York Times)