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Missoulian editorial: Threatening health care workers is unacceptable

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A sign at the Billings Clinic.

We are losing civility in our schools, on our planes and at our dinner tables.

That incivility now extends to our hospitals.

Across the country, doctors and nurses are dealing with hostility, threats and violence from patients angry over safety rules designed to keep the scourge of COVID-19 from spreading, according to the Associated Press.

Some medical workers have been physically assaulted. About 3 in 10 of 5,000 nurses surveyed across the U.S. report increased violence where they work.

Thankfully, we haven’t heard of any assaults locally — yet.

Stacy Rogge, spokeswoman for Providence St. Patrick Hospital, says unfortunately, employees there have seen an increase in aggressive patient and visitor behavior.

“This has been associated with demands for unproven COVID treatments, agitation with access or wait times and refusal to follow safety protocols — like mandatory masking,” Rogge said.

In Idaho, nurses say they are scared to go to the grocery store unless they have changed out of their scrubs, so they aren’t accosted by angry residents.

Just down Interstate 90 in Coeur d’Alene, doctors and nurses at Kootenai Health have been accused of killing patients by grieving family members who don’t believe COVID-19 is real, said hospital spokeswoman Caiti Bobbitt. Others have been the subject of hurtful rumors spread by people angry about the pandemic.

“Our health care workers are almost feeling like Vietnam veterans, scared to go into the community after a shift,” Bobbitt said.

Down the road the other way, at St. Peter’s Health Regional Medical Center in Helena, a patient recently told Dr. Ashley Coggins that he “wanted to strangle President Biden” for pushing for vaccinations, prompting her to change the subject.

Security guards are now in charge of enforcing mask rules for hospital visitors, so that nurses no longer have to be the ones to tell people to leave.

“You know, this is a weird time in our world, and the respect that we used to have for each other, caregivers and physicians and nurses — it’s not always there, and it makes this job way harder,” Coggins said.

A sign recently posted at Billings Clinic reads, in part, “Aggressive behavior will not be tolerated. Examples of aggressive behavior include physical assault, verbal harassment, abusive or foul language, threats (and) failure to respond to staff instructions.”

A health care worker, who asked that her name not be used, said she “never thought she would see the day that this would even have to be posted.”

We find it myopic, at best, that many people still don’t believe in a virus that has killed more than 4.5 million people worldwide, 700,000 in the U.S., 2,000 in Montana and 136 in Missoula. It’s willful ignorance at worst.

And taking out hostility on health care workers only worsens the problem. Many are quitting the profession rather than put up with this behavior, adding to the chronic understaffing that many facilities face just when their services are needed the most.

We see too many news accounts of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers suddenly seeing reason and begging for the vaccine as they are wheeled into a hospital and intubated — that’s when a doctor puts a tube down your throat because you can’t breathe.

By then it’s too late.

We don’t wish that fate on anyone.

Medical professionals are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. Without their selfless efforts, the pain and suffering would be much worse.

Remember to thank them — not curse them — when it’s your or your loved ones’ turn to be treated.

This editorial represents the views of the Missoulian’s editorial board — Publisher Jim Strauss and Executive Editor Jim Van Nostrand.

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