Abuse of healthcare workers must stop – Cushman

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Pembroke – Renfrew County’s acting medical officer of health is fuming over the way some people are treating healthcare workers locally and is asking the abuse to stop immediately.

Dr. Rob Cushman issued a statement and video release last week in which he denounced a minority of the county’s population who seem to think they can hurl abuses at frontline healthcare workers because of situations beyond their control.

He also noted that COVID cases have grown exponentially and officials are quite concerned about whether or not hospitals will be able to cope if numbers continue to increase.

The virus was present in both Renfrew Victoria Hospital (RVH) and Pembroke Regional Hospital (PRH) as well as in several long-term care homes in Renfrew County. The outbreak has since been declared over at RVH.  Many healthcare workers are either isolating because they came in contact with a person with the virus or because they have contracted it themselves.

While the virus is being picked up by both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, it is those who are unvaccinated who are hit the hardest. For vaccinated individuals, many report it is similar to a case of the flu while others have no ill effects.

While healthcare officials worry whether or not there will be enough beds in local hospitals to treat the sick, or if there will be sufficient ICU capacity, Dr. Cushman said the bigger challenge right now is the healthcare workforce.

“Health care workers are burnt out,” he said. “They’re brittle and we are seeing many more (COVID) cases amongst them now. They are getting it at work, they are getting it from their families, and they are getting it in the community.

“So we well be in a situation where we don’t have enough healthcare workers,” he continued. “And this is a sorry state.”

Dr. Cushman said it has been a case where all hands have been on deck on deck with healthcare workers doing everything they can to keep working.

At the same time, he said, there has been a lot of frustration amongst the public.

“And some people think they have a right to take out their anger on healthcare workers. And these are for things that are not in control of the healthcare workers.

“Does a receptionist who has been scorned by someone visiting a vaccination clinic have any control over the appointment bookings?

“Does a nurse who has been vaccinating for the past year have any control over the fact that we are trying to vaccinate to get boosters to all of those over the age of 18 in a very quick, short time frame? No, not at all.

“And is it the health unit’s fault that we don’t have enough antigen tests or that we have problems with PCR tests that we can’t test everybody? No.”

Dr. Cushman said healthcare workers are burnt out, overworked, brittle and a lot of them are really having a lot of trouble continuing in their roles.

“We’re seeing people leave the healthcare profession in droves,” he said. “And yet we have seen a dramatic increase in verbal abuse, and this is, really, frankly, very harmful and very hurtful.

“I think it has to stop. Frankly, I don’t think it has to stop, I know it has to stop. So this is a warning.”

By and large the public is very helpful and very supportive, Dr. Cushman said, but added with the increasing frustration and anger, there is a certain number of people who think they have a right to really vent their anger at healthcare workers.

“And as I said before, this has to stop.”

Dr. Cushman issued a stern warning to those who are rude and abusive, suggesting they be very careful.

“Don’t bite the hand that helps you because down the road you may need this hand … for you or someone in your family, and it may not be available because we are losing healthcare workers.

“They’re tired and they’re fed up. They’re burnt out and they are leaving in  droves. So, we need your support.”

It is only a few people misbehaving, Dr. Cushman said, but added their impact is enormous.

“It’s harmful and it’s hurtful and it’s having a dramatic affect on our staff. It doesn’t help them when they are working under the most trying circumstances already.”

Dr. Cushman is asking for everyone’s support to show respect to healthcare workers and at the same time expressed his thanks to “most of the public” for their ongoing support.

“Keep it up,” he said. “But for those of you who are angry and frustrated, I understand. Who is angrier and more frustrated than us, the healthcare workers? Please stop it. It’s hurtful, it’s harmful and it may end up hurting you in the end.

He said it is important everyone is in this together and that each and everyone must do their part. “Kindness and respect are as much a part of the battle against COVID as vaccinations and the adherence to public health measures,” he remarked.

A year ago, Dr. Cushman said this message would have been filled with optimism as vaccines were becoming available.

“But no, Omicron has taken its place and now we have a shortage of vaccines when everyone is looking for their boosters, not enough appointments at our clinics, we had our registration system crash, we don’t have enough tests, we’re having trouble doing contact tracing and we’re very worried about hospital beds and the surge.

“In fact that’s why all of these additional measures have been taken and that’s why the government decided to clamp down preceding New Year’s Eve festivities.”