'A slap in the face': Arizona ER doctor fired after talking about severity of COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Cleavon Gilman works at Yuma Regional Medical Center and said he was told on Nov. 22 no hospital in the state was accepting transfer ICU patients.
Dr. Cleavon Gilman works at Yuma Regional Medical Center and said he was told on Nov. 22 no hospital in the state was accepting transfer ICU patients.

PHOENIX — Dr. Cleavon Gilman, a well-known emergency-medicine physician, has been asked not to return to work at a hospital in Yuma, Arizona for his social media posts about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state, according to him and his staffing agency.

"What I don't understand about this is I have been advocating for Arizona; I have been calling for a mask mandate, the closure of schools and indoor dining," Gilman told The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network. "I did all of this because we are seeing an unprecedented number of cases. This is my third surge — I know how this ends."

The hospital, Yuma Regional Medical Center, said in a statement late Thursday night that "there has been a misunderstanding" and Gilman is scheduled to work this weekend.

"News to me," Gilman tweeted.

In June, Gilman moved his fiancé and two kids from New York to work in Yuma, near the U.S.-Mexico border, and "serve the small community during the pandemic." But he has not been to work since Nov. 23.

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It started on Nov. 22 when Gilman tweeted, "Just got to work and was notified there are no more ICU beds in the state of Arizona."

"What happened to the 175 beds??? We likely don’t have nursing to staff them," he added. The Arizona Department of Health Services at the time reported that 90% of ICU beds were in use.

His tweet received more than 81,000 likes and 30,000 retweets. Gilman said he finished his shift that day "without a problem."

The next morning, Nov. 23, Gilman received a call from the health care staffing company he works for, Envision Healthcare. Envision told him the hospital did not want him to come back to work.

"They told me it was because of the tweets and I couldn't believe it because that was accurate information I posted to inform the citizens of Arizona," he said. "It is a grave injustice and it's not just happening to me. Doctors everywhere are afraid to speak up."

Gilman was scheduled the following three days but the "hospital did not permit" him to come in, he said.

"All I know is this hospital is trying to crush my voice, they want to silence me and they want to financially hurt me. This is all so wrong."

In a time where Gilman said hundreds of thousands of his colleagues are forced to leave the front lines due to burnout and rising infection rates among health care workers, it is a "slap in the face" to sit on the sidelines for "no reason." But regardless of whether or not he holds a position at the hospital, Gilman said he isn't going to be quiet on social media anytime soon.

Around 11:45 p.m. Thursday, Yuma Regional Medical Center said in a statement posted on Twitter that "While he is not speaking on behalf of YRMC, we respect Dr. Gilman's right to share his personal perspective on the pandemic."

"We need good caregivers like Dr. Gilman here," the statement said.

Gilman outspoken about COVID-19 response in Arizona

Gilman served as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Marines during the Iraq War well before he became the chief resident of emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital during the beginning of the pandemic — a moment in history he said was "worse than war by a long shot."

"The death toll during the entire Iraq War was equivalent to what we see now every single day," he said. "You could leave a war zone if you couldn't handle it. COVID is everywhere."

Starting March 20, Gilman began documenting "what was happening on the frontlines" in his online journal, "#CleavonMDjournal."

His first post: "Tough night last night. Intubated a young woman with a history of smoking who decompensated very fast. There are so many COVID cases in New York City."

His posts about COVID-19 drew wide attention thanks in part to their insight into a hot spot in the early days of the pandemic. Approximately 203,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported in New York City during the first three months of the pandemic.

His prominence skyrocketed with the tweet about ICU beds in Yuma.

Since that initial tweet, dozens of his threads have gone viral. Gilman has used his platform to speak out about pay cuts for health care workers, COVID-19 deaths among children and the "lack of action" from President Donald Trump. The posts have been retweeted by celebrities such as John Legend and elected officials including Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. On Nov. 25, he was featured in the New York Times for an article about COVID "combat fatigue."

"I truly believe I have a moral obligation to Arizonans to be honest with them," Gilman said. "I can't be quiet while more than 2,000 people are dying everyday. What kind of doctor would I be? What kind of public servant would I be? I can't live with the silence they are asking from me."

On Dec. 5, President-elect Joe Biden called Gilman to thank him for his advocacy and his service. In a video of the call on the Biden-Harris Transitional Team's Twitter, Biden said "I promise you, doc, you are going to have a full-blown partner. You have my word as a Biden."

In his reply, Gilman tweeted that the call "lifted his spirits."

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'Not leaving [Yuma] without a fight'

In a statement sent to The Arizona Republic, an Envision Healthcare spokesperson said Envision "fully supports" Gilman and said the loss of his position during an ongoing pandemic would be "unfortunate."

"As a physician on the frontlines, he has continuously advocated for his patients and the health and safety of the Yuma community – a traditionally medically underserved community," the statement said. "We recognize Dr. Gilman’s depth of experience, perspectives and voice he lends to those who might not have one due to the inequities in the complex U.S. healthcare system."

Gilman said he does not believe he should have to leave Yuma at all. Yuma County has the highest rate of cases per 100,000 people in the state, according to Arizona Department of Health Services data.

"The people of Yuma deserve an honest doctor who gives them the truth, who cares about them and who advocates for them," Gilman said. "They have trusted me and I am not leaving them without a fight."

Follow Jamie Landers on Twitter @jamielanderstv.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cleavon Gilman fired by Arizona hospital after posting about coronavirus