Durham Region is taking a hard stance when it comes to treatment of the health department staff, after seeing more cases of abusive behaviour towards public health workers.
“It’s a range of things,” says Greg Annis, head of COVID-19 enforcement for the region.
“They’ve been met with anything from people saying that we’re picking on them, we’re harassing them and even more serious things like homophobic slurs.”
It’s something nobody wants to encounter while on the job. But Durham Health says whether it is a public health nurse on the phone, someone checking COVID-19 compliance or other investigations, they are getting it from all sides.
“From a human standpoint, it can be pretty discouraging,” says Annis. Annis previously worked in food safety, but since the pandemic began, his priority focus is enforcement of COVID-19 regulations.
“Staff are having their doors slammed in their faces,” Annis says. “We are just trying to keep the region safe.”
Durham’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Kyle, says employees have been the subject of everything from abusive language and behaviour to non-compliance and other issues.
This, he says, has led to a new zero-tolerance policy.
“You have to take appropriate measures to protect your staff and not let abuse and bullying get carried away,” Kyle says.”It’s disappointing and upsetting.”
Annis says it’s not just staff out in the field who are experiencing abuse. They are also dealing with increased instances of such behaviour while corresponding on social media and the phone.
“The nurses are dealing with raised voices, and clients have refused to provide information and then disconnect the call by hanging up,” Annis says.
In some instances while inspectors are on site, residents are arguing with them there, as well.
“The patrons that are in there, that shouldn’t be there are beginning to argue with inspectors,” he says.
But it’s not just arguing the charges, Annis says. They’re also disputing the validity of the science.
“They were quoting, ‘This is a conspiracy theory, this is a big hoax. You guys are the problem,’” he explains. “That really makes our job a lot harder.”
Dr. Wendy Stanyon with Ontario Tech University says the pandemic has brought this out of a lot of people.
“A lot of anger is related to fear,” she says. “We have fear of the pandemic and fear that our rights are being encroached.”
Officials say they have been dealing with pushback from the beginning, but with COVID-19 fatigue, it’s happening more often.
Although they recognize it can be droning to follow the rules, they are encouraging people to work together moving forward.
“We’re all trying to do the same goal here, which is to just end it,” says Annis.
Durham students return to in-person learning
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.