Renfrew County’s top doctor calls for an end to verbal abuse of frontline health care workers

As the race to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of residents in Renfrew County continues, health care workers are on the receiving end of frustration from some people.

“Certainly, we are getting a little bit of pushback that we can’t give whatever they want,” explains nurse practitioner Pat Durston, who works at the Crandall Street clinic in Pembroke, Ont. “Because right now we have a shortage of Pfizer so we have to save that for those under 30.”

Now, Renfrew County’s medical officer of health has issued a plea on behalf of frontline health care workers.

Dr. Robert Cushman is calling for an end to the verbal abuse he says frontline workers are facing from people who do not receive their vaccine of choice, cannot book an appointment or test, or receive their test results slower than expected.

“I guess I would describe them as the worried well,” says Dr. Cushman to CTV News Ottawa. “They’re seeing what’s going on (with Omicron) and they’re very concerned.”

The plea was issued Jan. 5 in a video online where the medical officer of health detailed events that staff and vaccinators are encountering.

“Does a receptionist who has been scorn by someone visiting a vaccination clinic have any control over the appointment bookings?” asked Cushman in the YouTube video. “No, not at all. Some people think they have a right to take out their anger on healthcare workers and these are for things that are not in the control of the healthcare workers.”

Durston has been vaccinating residents in Renfrew County since last summer and is currently stationed at the Crandall Street clinic.

“I’ve only had one or two that were very pushback, and they just left,” says Durston, who has scaled back to working just two days a week at this point in her career.

Cushman says the offenders in question are few in numbers, but claims their impact is enormous. He worries that if this type of abuse continues, frontline workers will want to leave healthcare at a faster rate, leaving the sector even more short-handed.

“These people are on the brink, they’re very brittle, and to be insulted like that, it’s just not on,” says Cushman. “No one is more fed up than the health care workers who are doing the hard work, trying to balance their families, and haven’t had any vacation.”

“I mean it can get stressful and we’re usually working very fast,” reveals Durston. “We’re trying to get 1,200 people through in a day and that’s a lot of people to vaccinate.”

Cushman says kindness and respect are just as valuable in the fight against COVID as the vaccines, and cites a ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ mentality for when health care workers are called upon again in the future.

“I think the majority of people are very nice and say thank you and it’s great to get their third dose,” adds Durston. “But you do have that small percentage that are a little bit annoyed.”

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