By Laura French
INDIANAPOLIS — A retired firefighter who was left with permanent lung damage after responding to a hazmat incident says a hospital refused to treat him because he did not wear a face mask.
Former Firefighter John Wetter, 44, said exposure to a 2012 hazmat spill involving 300 gallons of chlorine caused lung and vocal cord damage that ended his firefighting career and left him permanently disabled, according to WISH. He said he often suffers from bronchitis and pneumonia and that covering his nose and mouth could exacerbate his condition.
Wetter says he made an appointment with his orthopedist at Community Health Network after going to the emergency room for an elbow injury last week, but was told he could not be seen if he did not wear a mask. He added that a triage nurse had previously told him he would be exempted from the hospital's mask rule due to his disability.
Wetter argues the refusal to treat him is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. A spokesperson for Community Health Network told WISH that virtual appointments are available for patients who cannot wear masks, but Wetter said he was never offered a virtual appointment.
The former firefighter said he wanted to share his story due to social stigma about people not wearing masks, pointing out that some people cannot wear them due to legitimate disabilities. Wetter said he believes the stigma is worsened by those who make false ADA claims while refusing to wear a mask despite not having a disability.