A local doctor is speaking his mind about a troubling increase in harassment against healthcare workers in recent weeks.
It all stems from an incident earlier in the month in which an expletive-laden tirade was directed by the Reeve of a local southwest R.M. against Dr. Kevin Wasko which he shared to Twitter as an example of what healthcare workers are dealing with; sometimes from the very people who are in positions of power with the responsibility to protect their constituents.
Wasko spoke with Swift Current Online last week after the incident came to light on Twitter.
"I think for myself, I understand that this had been a very difficult past 18 months for everybody. It's been challenging. It's really pushed us to our limits and there are people who are extremely frustrated by the state of affairs due to the pandemic. There are people that are disappointed and we're starting to see people holding protests outside of hospitals or demeaning healthcare workers, whether it's in-person to their face or in social media channels."
As a doctor, Wasko says that the system has been stretched probably thinner than it ever has been thanks to the Delta variant that is spreading and increasing hospitalizations mostly among unvaccinated individuals. While as a professional he strives to maintain his empathy, the frustration is evident in his voice.
"I would say if you think you're sick of COVID, imagine how we feel right now. We want this to be over long ago. We don't want this to carry on anymore and that's why we've been begging and pleading with people to listen to the science and get vaccinated so we can start to move on. So directing that frustration and anger towards healthcare workers is just frankly inappropriate and it's very difficult to receive any of that when people are just trying to do their jobs."
He's more forgiving of the specific incident in question than others would potentially be, saying that we're all frustrated and human and sometimes emotions get the better of us.
"Are leaders held to a higher standard? Yes. But they're also human and I understand that we all have a different perspective that we bring and we've all been impacted by COVID-19 in different ways. I don't know him. I don't know what his personal circumstance has been but I think one of the important things that, especially as a physician that you have to do regardless if you don't see eye-to-eye is to try to empathize. So that's what I would say."
While the incident in question came from a person in a position of political leadership, the issue of healthcare harassment is by no means limited to the political sphere and raises questions about the southwest's lagging vaccination numbers, which remain among the lowest in the province.
"People are tired. People have left the system, creating more shortages and more pressure on those that have remained. It's demoralizing that this just seems to go on and on and on and then now add on the feeling of being disrespected, not listened to, and that your expertise and all the years of training and years of experience and practice, and putting out your science-based medical opinion to people is being disregarded or mocked in favour of a Facebook video or a Google search. It's all coming together as a host of different factors to make healthcare workers feel demoralized."
While protests don't seem to be abating, and online harassment has seemingly become a sport for all sides of any debate in recent years, Wasko stressed that the answer, as always lays with getting vaccinated. The only way out is when enough people are vaccinated, and he truly believes that if anyone comes to the emergency room and trusts his medical opinion when treating them, to extend that trust of him to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
"We all need to get out of this. We need to get out of this. We need to move on. And we need to preserve our healthcare system so that the needs of patients in our province can be met for whatever it is that they are presenting for."