‘Don’t hurt the helpers’: Healthcare workers react to reports of assault, verbal harassment at protests

'Don't hurt the helpers': Healthcare workers react to reports of assault, verbal harassment at protests
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At the start of the pandemic, frontline workers were held up as heroes.

But as vaccine passport protests grew outside hospitals around B.C. Wednesday, healthcare workers became targets of harassment and assault.

“Trying to walk into the hospital, there’s a sea of people around. No one has a mask on. It didn’t even feel like a safe thing to get through,” said Marcia Kent, a nurse at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital (NRGH).

Kent wasn’t on duty but instead was a patient at NRGH on Wednesday. She describes seeing families trying to have last conversations with dying loved ones as heartbreaking.

“Seeing the people in the palliative care unit, on the garden tops there, trying to just sit with their loved ones in peace but the megaphones going off with people shouting…it broke my heart,” said Kent.

At the same hospital, police received a report that one anti-vaccine passport protester even spit at a nurse on her way to work.

“She was not hit with the spit. She wanted to report it just for information purposes in the event it happened again. She gave a full description of who that person is,” said Nanaimo RCMP Constable Gary O’Brien.

Island Health says multiple members of their teams were verbally abused as they came to and left work during the protests, with only one case so far where a healthcare team member was physically assaulted.

“What happened to our healthcare teams today is not acceptable to me nor to the people and communities they serve. Our healthcare teams deserve respect and support, no matter what personal beliefs we hold,” said Island Health President and CEO Kathy MacNeil in a statement on Wednesday.

Nanaimo RCMP says they haven’t received a police report for that incident at this time.

The events were organized by a group called “Canadian Frontline Nurses.” Its organizers include Dr. Stephen Malthouse, a B.C. physician who has been reprimanded by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, as well as former Ontario nurse Kristen Nagle, who was fired after a trip to an anti-lockdown event in Washington D.C amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Vancouver Island healthcare providers still working in the field, describe the scenes that played out in front of hospitals across B.C. as a slap in the face.

“You have an absolute right to protest, but you don’t have a right to be abusive and harass. And why you’d be particularly abusive to the people who may well have to take care of you because you’ve chosen not to be vaccinated when you become sick, is beyond me,” said Dr. David Forrest, an infectious disease physician at NRGH.

Others were left demoralized and disheartened.

“I think we can all say it was initial anger. We’re also mentally and emotionally exhausted. People have given up time with their loved ones. They have worked many shifts up and beyond, and still doing so. So when you see stuff like that it’s really hard not to get angry,” said Darlene Rotchford, a health care worker in mental health and addiction services.

In Vancouver, police estimate 5,000 protesters spilled onto the streets outside Vancouver General Hospital, forcing ambulances to slow down outside, with chants of ‘lock her up’ in reference to Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“It makes me very sad that people would do that to others, watching the ambulance try to get through made me very upset and sad. Taking it out on me is something I have been living with as some of you know for some time,” Dr. Henry said Thursday.

“What upsets me is the amount of anger and vitriol that has been directed at others in public health and my team and my staff, and that’s inexcusable and very upsetting.”

Despite the protests though, healthcare workers around B.C. went back to work again today, and their message is clear.

“Don’t hurt the helpers,” said Kent.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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