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Hospital worker who was critical of facility’s administration fired

Aaron Bear said he spoke up to protect staff and patients

Maui Memorial Medical Center ICU nurse Aaron Bear, who has been critical of the hospital’s handling of patients and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been fired. Photo courtesy of Aaron Bear

An outspoken Maui Memorial Medical Center nurse who has criticized the hospital’s handling of two COVID-19 outbreaks as well as its virus protocols for staff and patients has been terminated.

ICU nurse Aaron Bear was fired Saturday. According to the notice of termination of employment Bear provided to The Maui News, he was discharged for violations under code of conduct, which deals with work environment and workers feeling intimidated by him, and his use of social networking and other electronic media to target administration and the facility.

As Maui Memorial Medical Center faced two COVID-19 outbreaks, one beginning in March with at least 57 cases among staff and patients and the other in August that reached 69 staff and patients, Bear publicly shared his dismay over the lack of leadership and transparency by the hospital administration and called for better management of the virus.

Bear and other workers challenged the hospital’s mask policy early in the pandemic; hospital workers were told they could not wear regular surgical masks or their own home-made masks when handling cases outside the COVID-19 unit.

The hospital later reversed its policy, with top officials maintaining that it was following government guidelines all along.

Bear also created an online petition calling for the removal of four administrators at the hospital, including Chief Executive Officer Mike Rembis. He parked a vehicle in the hospital lot in late April and early May with a “For Sale” sign that included the names of administrators.

On Monday, Bear said it took him some time to process his termination. He asked out loud, ” ‘Would I have changed anything?’ Reality is no, I would not change an absolute thing.”

“My only goal for speaking out all along was trying to make it safe for us as staff and the patients,” said Bear, a nurse at the hospital for 13 years, his entire nursing career. 

He had worked in the hospitality industry but wanted to help others so he turned to nursing.

“Those people are my family,” he said of the hospital staff. 

Bear, 49, said he continued to speak up because he doesn’t have a mortgage or children while others feared for their jobs and livelihoods.

Hospital spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said in an email Monday that the hospital was unable to comment on human resources matters but could confirm Bear’s termination.

A Mainland representative for Bear’s union, the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals, could not be reached for comment Monday. A local representative said he could not comment on the matter. 

Bear said he is meeting with a union representative today related to his dismissal.

The termination letter noted how Bear was suspended three times over issues, such as social media and print ads “targeting front line Maui Health administrators.”

There were concerns over “the loudness of conversations and confrontations with staff in the work environment,” his cellphone usage during work hours and the overall effects on patient care, the notice said.

Co-workers complained of being intimidated and made uncomfortable by Bear. A worker felt Bear was “aggressive and threatening,” the notice said.

He was suspended three times, two of which were with pay. The termination letter noted that he had been informed previously that he could be fired if not complying with rules.

Bear refuted some of the claims, saying he never threatened or intimidated people. He said that he may have made unpopular jokes and that his speaking up did “intimidate people” though it was not directed at individuals.

Fellow worker, respiratory therapist Rasa Priya Thom, who like Bear has spoken out about issues at the hospital, said he liked what Bear “brought to the table” and was willing to speak up and tell the truth about things that were uncomfortable.

Asked if he felt threatened by Bear’s removal, Thom said he didn’t feel that way. He still called for improvements at the hospital.

Personal protective equipment needs to be more easily accessible to staff, who currently must get a charge nurse to open up a cabinet, and everyone at the hospital, including doctors, need to follow the protocols to protect against the virus spreading, said Thom. More caution needs to be exercised when performing procedures involving COVID-19 patients because those situations have led to positive exposures of staff.

As for Bear, he is seeking other opportunities and has a job interview lined up. He did not disclose details.

For now, Bear said he wants to raise funds to make N95 masks available to any patient or staff member “that needs to enter Maui Memorial if they want one.”

Bear still feels more needs to be done at the hospital, including more COVID-19 testing and everyone wearing N95 masks. Improvements at the hospital are important to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 because Maui Memorial is the “sole provider” for hospital services on the island, he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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