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Inova CEO blasts racist slurs against health care workers

J. Stephen Jones, MD says some patients have gone from cheering nurses and doctors at the beginning of the COVID pandemic to jeering them with racism.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — The CEO of one of our region's biggest healthcare systems is offering a shocking account of racism and abuse of healthcare workers. 

In an opinion piece in the Richmond Times Dispatch, J. Stephen Jones, MD of Inova says nurses and healthcare workers are being subjected to a staggering number of slurs and even physical violence.

One patient told a nurse of the year he only wanted to be treated by white nurses. It's a huge turn from where we were at the beginning of the pandemic.

WUSA9 had an exclusive chance to sit down with Jones one on one.

Jones said two years ago healthcare workers were treated like heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We had fire trucks, police, and everyone else was coming around. The 'sirens for heroes,'" he said. "Two years ago we were fighting a battle arms locked, society totally behind us. It helped energize us a lot."

He says now, that healthcare workers are being abused verbally, physically and otherwise.

"What I heard in this circumstance is a patient said, 'I only want to be treated by a white nurse. And that nurse is not white. And it breaks my heart," Jones explained. "To think you come in to take care of someone and you're treated exactly the opposite of what you expect. It breaks my heart. But it's not a rare instance. And that's why we're speaking up."

When asked if patients are telling nurses to "go back to their own country," Jones confirmed it has happened. Racist incidents aren't the only forms of abuse healthcare workers are facing.

"In 2021, we had 648 incidents of physical violence reported," Jones said. "We've got to put an end to that."

Jones said those incidents do not include any of the racist incidents.

"Doesn't include any of that," he explained. "No way we could count that. Sad to say."

Jones says there is a zero-tolerance policy for racism at Inova.

"We will take a stand that if patients want to be cared for in that manner if they don't want to be cared for by the people who are there to help them... They will not make that choice at Inova," he said.

Ultimately, Jones is asking patients and family members to appreciate the people taking care of them.

"Simply be kind. And if you can't be kind, at least be quiet," he said. "Because we're here to help you."