In this interview, retired Army combat veteran Erin Marie Olszewski, a nurse who for several months treated COVID-19 patients at the Elmhurst Hospital Center, a public hospital in Queens, New York — the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S.
She has now written a book, “Undercover Epicenter Nurse: How Fraud, Negligence, and Greed Led to Unnecessary Deaths at Elmhurst Hospital,”1 which details her experiences.
Olszewski was born in Michigan and raised in a small Wisconsin town and joined the military at 17. When 9/11 happened, she was in basic training. “I was only 18 years old so I grew up pretty quickly,” she says.
Altogether, she was stationed in Iraq for just over a year. Upon her return to the U.S., she worked at the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, before leaving the military and going into nursing. Just a bit over 20 years ago, July 2000, I read a study by Dr. Barbara Starfield2 published in JAMA. It contained stats that identified physicians as the third leading cause of death.
I created that headline in July 2000, which took off as a meme and spread across the world. In a shocking follow-up to Starfield’s article, in 2012 her husband wrote a disturbing article in the Archives of Internal Medicine3 about her death, pointing to a drug she was taking as a possible contributor to it.
“Specialization, fragmentation, drug-orientation and profit-seeking help make American medical care the most expensive in the world, but not the safest or most effective,” Dr. Neil A. Holtzman wrote. “The lessons from Barbara’s death should be put in the perspective of the millions who cannot afford even basic services in our expensive system and suffer as a result.”
As if that’s not egregious enough, newer death statistics reveal the situation has only gotten worse over the years, and Olszewski’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates just how much more dangerous medicine has become.
“I did go into this profession to help people … [but] it did not take me long to realize that we’re literally just pumping our patients full of medications. Most of my job was morning meds, afternoon meds, night meds … [and] tests.
I’ve always had a passion for more of a natural approach to health and it was devastating to me to realize that I wasn’t really helping these patients, I was contributing to the problem,” Olszewski says.
“I always had that mindset as a nurse: How can I get these patients to look through these meds and talk to the doctors and advocate for them to get them off of all this?
I would hit a lot of roadblocks and so I ended up going to work at a private practice where doctors were more concerned about not so much profit, but the people. I always continued along those lines. Fast forward to this year, we were essentially laid off from our jobs.
In Florida, we did it right. We didn’t ban any of the alternative treatments. They left it up to individual hospitals to make up their own minds, so that’s why we were very successful, whereas New York was not.”
Medical Negligence Was the Norm
As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, New York, being a hotspot, was in desperate need for skilled nurses, so Olszewski ended up volunteering and went to work at Elmhurst in April 2020. “It was still extremely packed in these hospitals with pretty much every single person on a ventilator,” she says.
Curiously, when she got there, she was told she’d have to wait days for her assignment. Normally, in times of war, you’re expected to immediately get to work. This was the first red flag suggesting all was not as it seemed. Some of the nurses had waited in hotel rooms for 18 days before they received their assignments.
“Why weren’t they utilizing their resources, complaining that they didn’t have enough help when [there were] … 1,000, 2,000 nurses sitting around in New York waiting for an assignment? That was very confusing to me. If indeed this was essentially a war zone, people are literally dying left and right, why aren’t they utilizing us?
I finally did get an assignment and they put me at Elmhurst Hospital … I got there and literally it took me one shift — 12 hours — to realize that this is absolute chaos, and not because we didn’t have enough staff.
We were well staffed. It was because nobody cared. I literally felt like I was living in the twilight zone. And, just knowing what I know about our system anyway on a good day, this was just absolute negligence.”
Clearly, when you go into the hospital, you are at great risk of medical mistakes that can accidentally kill you, and Olszewski’s experience highlights one of the key problems: willful gross negligence. This is why it’s so crucial to make sure you have an advocate with you around the clock who can speak for you, ask questions and ensure you’re getting the appropriate treatment.
Due to COVID-19 infection concerns, family members were excluded from the process here. They simply weren’t allowed in. To me, that was probably why so much of this abuse was able to occur. Olszewski agrees, saying:
“That’s exactly right. On top of that, they created a liability-free environment. So now you have a liability-free environment where everybody knows that no matter what they do, they’re not going to get in trouble for it. We have no family around putting us in check …
You’ve got doctors and nurses that, at that point, just didn’t care because everybody was going to die anyway so what’s the point? And then you have everybody on a ventilator. So, these patients can’t even speak for themselves. They’re at the hands of whoever is taking care of them.
How do you sit by and allow this to happen? I don’t know how so many people knowingly knew this was going on and just chose to remain quiet. It’s just really sad.”
Routine Ventilation Was a Death Sentence
By the time Olszewski started working at Elmhurst in April, doctors around the world, including the U.S., had already started raising questions about the routine use of mechanical ventilation for COVID-19 patients. Within weeks, many started arguing that it appeared to be doing more harm than good.
That certainly proved accurate at Elmhurst. In a four-week period, Olszewski only witnessed one patient put on mechanical ventilation who survived, and that’s because the sedation didn’t quite take and he ended up extubating himself. The sad tragedy is he didn’t have any medical indications warranting him being placed on a ventilator to begin with.
Essentially, being put on a vent is the kiss of death and, according to Olszewski, the staff at Elmhurst were aware of that. So, within her first week, Olszewski spoke to an attorney and began secretly videotaping her findings and interactions with the staff at Elmhurst. This was necessary so that the public would believe her story. She explains:
“Like I said, it didn’t take me more than a shift to realize what was going on. I got back to my hotel room and just broke down in tears … I couldn’t even believe it. I have a lot of nurse friends and I asked them to hop on a Zoom call with me and I just let it all out.
One of them is a nurse practitioner, and she ended up kind of being my proxy. She did a live video and it went pretty viral … She got gaslighted by everybody. She had death threats. Everyone said she was making it up.
So, I had contacted an attorney after a few days of seeing what was going on with her, just trying to get my message out. And I’m like, ‘Listen. No one’s going to believe what’s happening here because they don’t believe her … The only way the public is ever going to be able to take this seriously and believe what I’m saying … is with actual video.’
I had already tried to go up the chain of command and everybody would just tell you, ‘Just be quiet or you’re gone.’ You were considered a troublemaker if you tried to advocate for your patients, and you were pretty much shunned … There were nurses sent home prior to me getting there, for doing the same things …
Ethics essentially just went out the window. My attorney actually ended up getting me a pair of spy glasses in order to videotape and they fit in with the rest of the PPE so it was never really questioned …
It was pretty terrifying, but at the same time I’m going in there, looking at my patients like, ‘You know what? You guys deserve justice. This should have never happened, and I hope history never repeats itself ever again.’ That was the mission.
People need to know the truth and those that thought this was OK need to be held accountable for these actions. In our profession, we’re supposed to be there for the patients. We’re supposed to act with integrity and compassion and none of that was happening.”
Nurses Fired for Protecting Patients
As a general rule, nurses, who are in the trenches day in and day out, are far more knowledgeable about the practical details to optimize patient care than most physicians, who may understand the science better but typically fail to appreciate critical implementation variables.
Nurses who are in the trenches day in and day out typically know what works and what doesn’t. I can remember many times during my own medical residency where nurses would correct decisions that, if implemented, could have harmed the patient.
So, skilled nursing staff are really crucial components that help keep patients safe. Unfortunately, in this case, nurses were routinely overruled and ignored. According to Olszewski, she had many conversations with her coworkers, all of whom said the same thing. They just couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I actually recorded a lot of those conversations too just because I didn’t want people to think it was just me,” she says. “Really, everybody thought ‘This is not OK.’ But everybody was afraid to say something … There are a lot of upset people and they try to hurt you and silence you in any way that they can.”
Olszewski was ultimately fired from Elmhurst for speaking out about the conditions there. There are also petitions to remove her nursing license. That, it seems, is a commonly used way to silence the opposition these days. Olszewski vows to fight to keep her license.
Medical Experimentation by Residents Killed Patients
Making matters worse, many of the doctors treating COVID-19 patients at Elmhurst were first-year residents, many of whom had never interacted with patients before. According to Olszewski, many had “zero bedside manner” and approached their patients as little more than “something to practice on.” “There were not many of them that really had compassion for these lives,” she says.
Typically, private hospitals do not have medical residents treating patients, and if they do, they’re strictly supervised. Elmhurst Hospital, however, is a training hospital, and according to Olszewski, residents had virtually no supervision at all. “I very rarely saw an attending, so it was the residents running these floors,” she says. Worse, the residents were not leaning on the expertise of the nursing staff.
“We couldn’t even leave our patient’s room because [the residents] would come in and dial the ventilators, they’d mess with our drips. We had to lock our pumps because they would just come in and change it. That’s unheard of on a normal day. Physicians never touch our pumps or ventilators without letting us know.”
When asked why residents would behave so inappropriately, Olszewski replies:
“A lot of ego, a lot of, ‘They’re going to die anyway so we just want to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.’ There were a lot of errors being made and unnecessarily causing a lot of death. And I can’t explain it. Like I said, [you had a] liability-free environment … [and] these residents weren’t being monitored by the attending doctors …”
Lack of Segregation Led to Unnecessary Deaths
The refusal to segregate infected patients from noninfected ones also undoubtedly worsened the situation, placing lives at risk. In a perfect scenario, infected patients would have been isolated in negative pressure rooms, since the normal ventilation system can circulate the virus throughput the hospital.
Still, by rooming infected and noninfected patients together, you virtually ensure the disease will spread to noninfected patients being treated for other health conditions.
Nurses also were not changing their personal protective equipment (PPE) between patients. The same PPE was worn all day long. Elmhurst didn’t even have regulations requiring fresh PPE between patients or when going from one room to the next.
COVID-Negative Patients Placed on Ventilation
Perhaps most egregious, COVID-negative patients were listed and treated as confirmed positive, and some were even placed on mechanical ventilation. One of them was a male patient admitted for high blood glucose, which is easily remedied and under no circumstance would require ventilation. Olszewski tells the story:
“They ended up giving him a lot of different psych drugs which, ultimately, just kept that blood sugar going up and up. And, instead of treating that, they ventilated him.
They put him on our COVID ICU floor, which is unheard of. And he’s anxious, so they have him tied down to the bed in restraints, which makes anybody even more anxious. You can’t have any family in there, there’s a bunch of nurses telling you to be quiet. Anyone’s going to fight in that type of situation. You’re terrified to be there in the first place …
I was in there just trying to hold his hand, talk to him, calm him down, and one of the residents comes in saying ‘If you don’t calm down, we’re going to have to put a tube down you to help you breathe.’ I was just like, ‘What are you doing? He doesn’t need that.’ Within five minutes of my leaving for the end of my shift, he was on a ventilator. That right there, that’s just negligence.”
New York Had Adequate Resources That Went Unused
The same medical fellow also refused to allow another patient to be resuscitated, even though he did not have a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. A fellow is someone who has completed their formal medical training, graduated medical school, internship, and residency, and is doing a sub specialty in some discipline of medicine. So, you’d expect a fellow to act more responsibly than that.
“At that point, nobody really cared anymore,” Olszewski says. The doctors expected all patients to die anyway, and there was no liability for anything that was being done or not done. Unfortunately, there was a clear financial incentive for treating noninfected patients as COVID-19 patients, and placing them all on mechanical ventilation. As explained by Olszewski:
“They essentially turned Elmhurst into an all-COVID hospital … If they were going to admit somebody, they were either COVID positive or they were awaiting their test results. So, they would be admitted as ‘COVID rule-out’ and the hospital would still get the kickback. It was $13,000 to admit a patient to the floor.
Some of these people, like the one that was unnecessarily vented, he could have gone to the Navy ship Comfort, knowing he was negative for COVID-19. They knew that. But they still admitted him, got the $13,000 and then ventilated him for another $39,000. This was happening consistently.
There’s no reason these patients had to be packed in like sardines when we had external resources that weren’t being utilized. So why? … Maybe it was the financial incentive … That’s just people just not caring and putting profit over these patients.”
Death Rate Plummeted Once Treatment Protocols Were Exposed
While Olszewski has been largely ostracized by her nursing colleagues, most of whom likely fear losing their jobs if they openly side with her, the death rate at Elmhurst plummeted after Olszewski’s undercover videos started making the rounds on social media.
Her hour-long interview in the “Perspectives on the Pandemic” series, which has 1.4 million views,4 was released to the public June 9, 2020. Daily death rates in New York City hospitals dropped dramatically after that.5
“I personally think that this has had an impact on the deaths in New York because after that video went out and they were outed on their treatment protocols, the death rate plummeted,” Olszewski says.
I think they’re a lot more cautious about who they’re admitting to these hospitals and how many people are being put on the ventilators [now]. In early April when I got there, I questioned a doctor that I also recorded and he admitted that not one patient had been successfully extubated.
So, by the time I got there, every single patient on a ventilator died. And they refused to try any alternative treatments even though we know a lot of alternative treatments existed. Their excuse was that they didn’t work. And my question was, ‘Listen, if you know the ventilators aren’t working, then why not try [the alternatives]?'”
Government Should Not Interfere in Medical Decisions
The tragedy is that hydroxychloroquine with zinc likely would have made a significant difference if routinely used in the early stages of disease, and in suspected cases. It clearly was helpful in Florida, where some doctors have been using it.
Quercetin also works similarly to hydroxychloroquine. Both drive zinc into the cell, and quercetin, being a supplement, doesn’t require a prescription and also has other effects, such as SIRT2 activation and decreasing inflammation, which actually make it a better choice. However, like hydroxychloroquine, quercetin must also be used with zinc — and administered very early in the course of the illness.
Still, considering asymptomatic patients were being roomed with those who had confirmed COVID-19, either of these options could have protected many of these patients. It’s really incomprehensible that a treatment has been so badly maligned, to the point that pharmacy boards have refused to fill prescriptions for a drug that’s been on the market for more than six decades.
“I think every patient has a right to try multiple different alternatives,” Olszewski says. “High-dose IV vitamin C [has also] successfully treated patients in Asia and some people in New York when [the pandemic] first started. Why are these alternative treatments being frowned upon?
Has this caused even more deaths? Honestly, government shouldn’t ever get involved in the doctor-patient relationship. People should be able to have a choice and the freedom to be able to have these alternative treatments available to them if they can save their life.
Autonomy and patient rights are just gone … Patients deserve to be treated like humans, and politics and profit should never be placed above human life, ever.”
One of the most effective treatments to date in the hospital setting appears to be the MATH+ protocol, which includes high-dose vitamin C, steroids, thiamine and heparin. It has protocols both for early intervention and late-stage disease.
However, I plan on posting an update to the nebulized hydrogen peroxide video as I have modified the recommendation. I’ve had a number of people use it with very severe disease and recovered from the symptoms in a matter of hours. I had no idea this treatment was so effective.
Fortunately, since Olszewski started speaking out, others have braved the backlash and spoken out about medical mismanagement as well. One of them is featured in the video below. Warning though the video is very emotional and the nurse uses some understandable profane language.
On the downside, physicians at Elmhurst who were responsible for implementing orders that led to patients’ deaths may or may not be held liable for their actions.
“There are some clauses in that order that gross negligence is liable,” Olszewski says. “Families are coming forward and many of them are very upset, so maybe, hopefully, there will be a federal investigation and there will be accountability for these actions. I feel there should be.”
To learn more about what went on at Elmhurst, be sure to pick up a copy of “Undercover Epicenter Nurse: How Fraud, Negligence, and Greed Led to Unnecessary Deaths at Elmhurst Hospital,” slated for release August 18, 2020.