Misinformation leads to hostility towards healthcare professionals

The constant stream of misinformation is causing Idaho’s healthcare professionals to face growing hostility from some patients and community members, officials said. North Idaho has gotten so bad that some Kootenai Health employees are afraid to go to the grocery store if they haven’t changed, hospital spokeswoman Katie Bobbitt said Tuesday.

Some doctors and nurses at Coeur d’Alene Hospital have been accused of killing patients by grieving family members who do not believe COVID-19 is real, Bobbitt said. Others have become the subject of offensive rumors spread by people unhappy with the pandemic.

“Our healthcare workers almost feel like Vietnam veterans who are afraid to go to the community after their shift,” Bobbitt said.

Similar cases are occurring across the state, said Brian Whitlock, president of the Idaho Hospital Association.

“We have had reports of physical abuse, verbal abuse, and demands for alternative treatment that are unacceptable or approved. And these conversations become very difficult as the patient continues to decompensate, ”Whitlock said. “We are not disappointed with misinformation. We are disappointed with those who spread misinformation because it costs people their lives. “

Misinformation is still widespread in Idaho. Some far-right state legislators, political organizations and local leaders, including a pathologist who was recently appointed to the public health council of the state’s most populous region, neglect COVID-19 vaccines and insist on the use of antiparasitic drugs. treat the coronavirus despite the potentially dangerous side effects and little evidence that it helps, and wrongly claimed that the number of coronavirus cases is overstated.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the entire state introduced “crisis treatment standards,” authorizing rationing of medical services for hospitals overcrowded with COVID-19 patients. On September 25, the state set a new record: 757 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, including 202 in intensive care beds and 131 on ventilators.

“This is something we worry about every day,” said Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency is working to debunk coronavirus-related misinformation through weekly briefings, on social media and through meetings with other agencies and organizations, he said.

He added: “We have people who needlessly suffer in hospitals and get sick, and frankly, we have people who are dying because of the spreading misinformation.”

All of this leads to hostility towards health care providers, said Susie Keller, CEO of the Idaho Medical Association.

“Misinformation makes people not get vaccinated, and then when they become severely ill, misinformation increases hostility towards health care providers because they believe lies about how to properly treat COVID,” Keller said. “I have heard some of our doctors say that they are not angry with patients, they are angry with people who spread misinformation – these people are entirely responsible for the death and disability we see.”

Healthcare facilities are expressing “growing concern” about safety as hostility towards healthcare workers continues to grow, said Elke Shaw-Talloch, Idaho Public Health Administrator.

The Idaho Department of Health and Human Services and other government agencies such as the Idaho State Police have plans to improve hospital safety, Shaw-Talloch said.

Some healthcare facilities have already stepped up security measures on their own. Kootenai Health recently increased safety at its medical clinics because patients became aggressive towards staff when asked to wear masks, Chief of Staff Dr. Robert Scoggins said.

“We’ve also increased security around the hospital’s campus, especially during protests,” Scoggins said. “I mean, a couple of weeks ago we had a protest against masks and vaccines outside the hospital, which could be seen by patients who were dying from COVID inside. I think it was terrible. “

The number of COVID-19 cases is expected to continue to rise in the near future, as will the number of hospitalized patients, according to projections used by the Idaho Department of Health and Human Services. By the end of November, the state could have up to 1,900 hospitalizations in one week, and the maximum number of deaths could be 305 per week, according to state deputy epidemiologist Dr.Katherine Turner.

Turning the tide is possible, Scoggins said, “but it will require people to change their minds and change their deeply rooted beliefs based on a lot of misinformation.”

It’s not fun to wear a mask, avoid large groups, and get vaccinated, Scoggins said, but the measures work.

“If instead of fighting each other, everyone followed the good science and guidelines that we have now, we would not be where we are,” said Scoggins. “It is a tragedy that we have medical workers who are afraid to go out because they are approached by people who adhere to these beliefs. Until you walk into the ICU and watch someone choke on COVID, this is when you know it’s real. “

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