Ottawa health-care workers feel insulted, frustrated at hospital protests

Health-care workers at The Ottawa Hospital say a national day of protest organized at hospitals has left them feeling angry and frustrated after a year and half on the front line of the pandemic.

Ontario nurses' and doctors' groups both 'strongly condemn' protests against public health measures

Protesters gather across from The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus on Carling Avenue to denounce public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic on Sept. 13, 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Health-care workers at The Ottawa Hospital say a national day of protest organized at hospitals has left them feeling angry and frustrated after a year and half on the front line of the pandemic. 

About 50 people were present across from The Ottawa Hospital's Civic campus on Carling Avenue on Monday afternoon peacefully protesting public health measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the protesters who spoke to CBC News said they don't necessarily oppose vaccination, but they feel it should be a freely-made choice.

Alicia Robblee, an intensive care nurse at the Civic, said while she wasn't scheduled to work the day of the protest she's angry people are bringing anti-vaccination and anti-public health messages to hospitals.

"It's demoralizing. It makes us angry and we've spent the last year and a half going through very difficult and stressful situations at work. We want to feel supported and this makes us feel disrespected," Robblee said.

"It feels like a direct insult to me and my colleagues."

The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario and Ontario Medical Association issued a joint statement "strongly condemning" the planned disruptions and calling for designated safe zones around health-care facilities to protect staff and patients.

Robblee, who is fully vaccinated herself, said she doesn't personally know any colleagues who participated in the protest and doesn't want patients to feel like the group that organized them, which was founded by two Ontario nurses, represents them. 

There are more than 11,600 staff at the Ottawa Hospital, according to its annual report, and a union representing workers there says a recent email to unvaccinated staff involved fewer than 400 people.

The Ottawa Hospital, Montfort Hospital, Queensway-Carleton Hospital and Bruyère Hospital are all requiring their staff have both doses of COVID-19 vaccines by Oct. 15. The vaccine mandate at CHEO came into effect Sept. 7. 

Protest at hospital 'unfathomable': ER doctor

Dr. Lisa Fischer, who works at the Ottawa Hospital's Civic and General campuses, said she has colleagues who dread facing down protesters to go to work — they're also worried the protests made some sick people think twice about coming to hospital.

"I even worry about the unvaccinated maybe sick people at home who might feel shame or like they'll get blamed when they do come to the emergency department," she said.

"We just want to provide good health care to people," she said. "To target health-care workers after a year and half of the pandemic is just unfathomable."

Fischer, who is also fully vaccinated, did express some concern there isn't much opportunity for dialogue with people who are still unvaccinated and protesting outside a hospital.

"We know that fringe minority doesn't represent the vast majority of the citizens of Ottawa. There's been a lot of support," Fischer said.

An anti-vaccine mandate protester approaches a counter-protester in a dinosaur costume across the street from The Ottawa Hospital's Civic Campus on Monday. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

"We've all made huge sacrifices, some more than others. In general, I think health care workers recognize that and we want to thank Ottawa for having such a huge vaccination rate."

Ottawa Public Health's COVID-19 vaccination dashboard said Monday that 81 percent of the city's eligible population is fully vaccinated, with 87 percent having at least one dose.

Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, tweeted her support for the city's health-care workers. 

The Ottawa Hospital said it increased security as a result of the protest. While the hospital expressed disagreement with protesters' message through its official Twitter account, it also acknowledged their right to protest.

With files from Nicole Williams

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