'Be kind, be patient': Sask. health-care workers speak out about hostility

Early in the pandemic, health-care workers around the world were regarded as heroes. Now some are facing abuse and hostility, online and off.

People are expressing anger and frustration in person and online

Health-care workers say they are sometimes met with demeaning comments and verbal abuse. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Early in the pandemic, health-care workers around the world were regarded as heroes. Now some are facing abuse and hostility, online and off.

Hospitals in the province are already facing intense strain during the fourth wave of the pandemic, according to the medical community. On top of that, staff are sometimes being met with demeaning comments and verbal abuse from those accessing services. 

"We see that across the country, but I think we're seeing it here in the province, too, where there are people that don't agree with the masking recommendations. They don't believe in the vaccine," Dr. Kevin Wasko said in an interview on CBC Radio's Morning Edition.

Dr. Kevin Wasko is physician executive for integrated rural health for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. (Saskatchewan Medical Association)

Wasko is the physician executive for integrated rural health for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. He said that contact tracers and nursing colleagues often bear the brunt of the vitriol. 

"We routinely ask people if they have received their vaccine when they come to the emergency department, for instance. And even that question will incite anger in some patients," he said. 

Wasko said front-line health-care workers are who people accessing health care see first, and if someone is upset about COVID-19 decisions or measures, it's sometimes taken out on them. 

As someone who uses social media to deliver information about the ongoing pandemic, Wasko said most of the hostility directed at him is online.

"That's where I'm faced with more anger at times, rudeness, insults and so on, because it's not the message that people want out there if they truly don't believe that COVID is real or that the vaccine is effective," he said. 

Making it through the day

Megan Lavender is a nurse who works in emergency rooms in Saskatoon hospitals. She says she is experiencing anger from hospital-goers. 

"Patients and family members alike are obviously very frustrated and stressed. And when they have a family member laying on a stretcher in an emergency department for three or four days, they express that frustration to us," she said. 

Lavender said that this, coupled with staffing shortages, is putting a lot of strain on her and her colleagues. 

"You kind of just go into every shift hoping to make it through the day, essentially, which is not really a way for anybody to live and not really a way that I can see myself continuing in this career in the long term," she said. 

Dr. Wasko described similar challenges. He said he wants people to know that the pandemic is far from over, but hopes in the meantime people will work with, not against, health-care workers

"We had pressure to keep many facilities open even before the fourth wave began, to staff units, to staff our emergency departments," he said.

"So please, when you do access care, be kind. Be patient. Be understanding. Our health-care workers really need it right now."

They've been working hard throughout the pandemic and not only are they tired -- but they're facing abuse and hostility from some of their patients. Dr. Kevin Wasko is a physician executive for Integrated Rural Health with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 9:59


Candice Lipski is a CBC reporter and associate producer based in Saskatoon. She holds a Master of Journalism degree from UBC. Follow her on Twitter @Candice_Lipski or send her a story idea at

With files from CBC's Morning Edition, Janani Whitfield, Stefani Langenegger

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