Negative, hostile comments against public health staff growing, says Dr. Wang

Staff with Region of Waterloo Public Health are "regularly experiencing a growing number of negative or hostile responses" about COVID-19, the region's medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang says.

'It’s normal to feel stressed ... it is not OK to bully anyone,' said Wang

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang is Waterloo region's medical officer of health. She says staff at public health are facing an increasing number of negative interactions with the public over the pandemic. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Region of Waterloo Public Health staff members are facing angry pushback and negative comments from community members as they try to carry out their work, confirms the region's medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang.

"Public health staff are working very hard every day during this pandemic and staff are regularly experiencing a growing number of negative or hostile responses by phone, email and online comments," said a statement from Dr. Wang emailed to CBC K-W.

That negative feedback has been increasing locally — but it's not an isolated issue. Last week, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex revealed he too has been a victim of online bullying.

"It's normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed, but it is not OK to bully anyone. If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, reach out to a trusted friend or family member or connect with professional, mental health supports available in our community," said Wang. 

Wang recommended people reach out to HERE 24/7, which can be reached by calling 1-844-437-3247.

"This has been a difficult and challenging time for everyone, including public health staff. We ask that you practice patience and kindness if you are contacted by public health or are engaging with public health online."

Frustrated and upset

Last week, Dr. Wajid Ahmed of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said he has received threatening messages about his handling of COVID-19, which prompted him to file complaints to police. 

"We have received many threatening letters to the health unit and also emails, which is, again, all understandable. People are frustrated, people are upset," Ahmed said.

Ahmed said his 13-year-old son has seen messages online and "when he reads things or sees people making any mean comments about me, he gets upset, too. He feels that they don't have the right to do it." 

'Default to empathy'

A spokesperson for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health said for the most part, the vast majority of comments made to its CEO and medical officer of health Dr. Nicola Mercer have been "positive, respectful and supportive."

"While there have been negative comments, the large majority of those have also been respectful," an email from spokesperson Danny Williamson said. "Anything deemed a credible threat would be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency."

The statement noted the pandemic has been difficult for everyone.

"It's important for all of us to remember that and default to empathy and kindness in our interactions with local agencies, businesses and — most importantly each other," it said.

Wang echoed that sentiment and said people working at public health are working "to protect the health of the community as a whole and these measures are most effective when the community works together."


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