5 On Your Side

'I felt put on display:' Duke patient questions use of transparent COVID cube

Posted October 28, 2020 2:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2020 12:23 p.m. EDT

— Some COVID patients being treated in Duke University Hospital's Emergency Department say they feel "put on display" while waiting inside transparent plexiglass cubes meant to help keep them isolated from other patients.

These glass cubicles are approximately 8’x8’ and have the same furniture as the main waiting area, according to a spokesperson for Duke University Hospital.

"They are appropriately staffed to ensure patient safety and quality of care,” said the spokesperson.

Duke officials said the cubicles are one way to keep potentially contagious patients isolated while waiting in the emergency department – especially when the patient load is so high

“Waiting times often vary and are difficult to predict," said officials. "With very high demand for emergency department services in our region, many patients receive ongoing diagnostic and therapeutic care in the waiting room."

Feeling "put on display," while other patients take photos

Michele Lea Biaso was struggling to breathe when she went to the hospital around 9 p.m. on October 15.

"The emergency room was packed," said Biaso. "There were just people everywhere."

Biaso says for isolation purposes, she and two other possible COVID-19 patients were sent to wait in plexiglass cubes until they could be seen by a doctor.

She said she initially felt uncomfortable about being put into a transparent cube; however, she realized the necessity for protecting other patients.

Biaso said she sat in the cube for hours -- sick, in pain and emotional – then noticed other people in the waiting area were taking pictures of her and other patients in the clear cube.

Biaso also said she was deeply concerned for the health of another woman in the cube with her.

"This woman was coughing like so much. She was in way worse condition than me," said Biaso.

"She was sleeping in her chair with her head hanging down. I felt in my gut that something was wrong. Like, this is not how people with COVID should be treated."

Biaso posted on social media about the cube the hours-long wait for care.

According to Biaso, employees told her the posts are what prompted her to finally be moved to a room the next morning.

"I had said, what made you guys come get me? And they’re like, 'Your Facebook posts,'" she said.

"And then they kept making fun of me, said Biaso. "They’re like, 'How many likes did you get on your post?'"

Biaso is now officially recovered from COVID.

She hopes by sharing her experience, the hospital will at least add curtains so that others don’t have to feel "on display" inside the plexiglass cubes.

"It’s degrading, it’s degrading, " says Biaso. "To already be scared and tired and achy and sick from COVID and then to be denied basic human dignity was like awful. They need to do better."

Duke responds to Biaso's posts

"We work hard to provide the best experience and highest quality care for our patients while keeping everyone safe. We are sorry that we sometimes do not meet these high standards and take feedback seriously to help us improve our service to our patients," said Duke officials in a statement to WRAL's 5 on Your Side.

According to officials, the Duke Emergency Department has developed processes to decrease wait times and shorten overall length of stay by shifting the medical screening exam to be performed earlier in the visit to expedite care and diagnostic evaluation.

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