INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A photo taken by a patient appears to show at least one staffer without a face mask at the Damien Center, an HIV care facility near downtown Indianapolis.
The patient claimed the nonprofit threatened to discontinue his services after he shared the photo with News 8.
He feared retaliation and requested not to be identified by his real name in this report.
“You’re not supposed to take photos in there, but I didn’t give a f—,” Dave* said.
The patient called for stricter mask policies and uniform pandemic restrictions at facilities that serve immunocompromised Hoosiers.
The Damien Center was founded in 1987 and provides services to more than 25% of Hoosiers living with HIV, including Dave.
He was a Damien Center client for at least eight years before the pandemic.
On Aug. 19, Dave arrived at the facility for lab services, including blood work.
The receptionist who checked him in for the appointment was partially protected by plexiglass but was not wearing a mask, according to Dave.
He reported seeing at least two additional staffers in the facility’s downstairs lab area who were not wearing masks.
The photo he took downstairs shows three people behind a counter with a plexiglass panel. One person is not wearing a mask and appears to be touching her face. Another person’s lower face is obscured by a computer screen, but her nose is visibly exposed.
“I just want to feel safe when I go in this building,” Dave told News 8. “I’m a little concerned when they don’t wear their masks that I could be exposed to it and that if I get COVID-19, then that’s another thing I have to worry about since I’m HIV-positive.”
Damien Center representatives did not immediately respond to inquiries about the photo or potential discontinuation of Dave’s services.
Alan Witchey, president and CEO of the Damien Center, indicated employees are not required to wear masks inside the facility when separated by plexiglass barriers and maintaining appropriate distance.
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive order does not mandate masks in private offices or other “private workspaces.”
None of these scenarios appear to apply in Dave’s photo.
Damien Center staffers are required to cover their noses and mouths before interacting with clients in any setting, even if they are separated by plexiglass, according to Witchey.
Witchey maintained that an internal investigation found no evidence of staffers violating the organization’s mask policy and directed News 8 to contact LabCorp with inquiries about the lab area.
“The only LabCorp personnel at the Damien Center is a phlebotomist who collects patient specimens for lab testing. [They] follow standard safety protocols that include wearing a medical mask,” a LabCorp spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The lab worker who collected Dave’s specimen was wearing a mask, he said.
The governor’s executive order does not list plexiglass as an alternative to face coverings, define what constitutes a private workspace or mandate stricter policies in facilities serving immunocompromised Hoosiers.
“While the executive order requires the use of masks indoors and does outline certain exemptions, the order could not contemplate every possible scenario in all indoor settings,” a spokesperson for the Indiana State Department of Health said.
Dave worried health officials could put him at undue risk of COVID-19 exposure by overestimating the public’s sense of social responsibility.
“If you do not speak up, then nothing will be done. So I’m hoping this will help,” he said.
*The patient’s name was changed to protect his identity.