Heartbreaking stories from the frontline: B.C. health care workers brought to tears by COVID protesters

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – We’re getting a better idea of how Wednesday’s shocking COVID-19 vaccine protests at hospitals across Canada impacted care on the frontlines.

Health care workers have taken to social media to share their frustrations, detailing how the disruptive rallies affected those who were seeking treatments and other services at hospitals in Vancouver and beyond.

Some say nurses, doctors, and family members of critically ill patients were brought to tears.

In a Facebook post, one B.C. worker says if you want to protest, fine, but she doesn’t understand why hospitals had to be their setting.

Read more: 

“You feel strongly, and want to express your frustration, you can,” writes Kari Way in her post, accompanied by a photo of herself in full PPE. “Personally, I would have picked a spot with more visibility and presence than our usually quiet hospital street, especially since most of us at the hospital are vaccinated. And those that aren’t are admitted fighting for their lives.

“I doubt you will accomplish your goal of having a tide of change,” she adds.

Way goes on to say she doubts protesters “will accomplish your goal of having a tide of change,” noting all the impacts the protests actually had on Wednesday.

She says some of her nurse colleagues cried, ambulances were blocked from accessing the ER, parking spots that would normally be used for “labouring moms and ER patients” were taken up by demonstrators, and that protesters “distressed my delirious confused elderly patients with the loud honking horns.”

The physician notes family members of people who are critically ill were brought to tears, and those grieving loved ones who were hoping to say their peaceful good byes were disrupted.

Way says in addition to “hopefully unintentionally disturbing patients and families trying to survive and heal from illnesses,” protesters were able to accomplish one other thing: “You have made us feel deeply disrespected.”

Her post has been liked and shared thousands of times, many people taking to the comments section to say “sorry anyone had to experience this.”

Another person, who identifies themselves as a nurse in the Kelowna area, says he’s “never felt more disappointed, disrespected and defeated.”

“I am 66 years old, I am diabetic, have major lung issues, and a 3 time cancer survivor. I have worked right through this pandemic even though I have put myself at great risk,” writes Terry Teite in a community group.

“I left the hospital and had to walk through this to get to my car to go home after yet another crazy day at work only to be yelled at, sworn at, people in my face belittling me because I was wearing my mask till I got passed the people,” he continued.

COVID-19 protesters take to the streets outside of Vancouver City Hall. Thousands of people demonstrated across Canada, many in front of hospitals, to speak out against vaccines and vaccine passports. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 photo)

He did not mince words, directing frustration at protesters by saying “how dare you protest in front of our hospital,” and “how dare you disrespect each and everyone of us that have worked so hard for the last 18 months in emotionally and physically challenging situations to bring the best care possible to those of you that did get sick.”

“Understand this… we are broken… we are tired.. we are burnt-out… we are demoralized.. and you’re not helping!”

Others have also shared the obvious impacts of the protests, with one person telling NEWS 1130 it took them two hours to get their mother, who has end-stage cancer, to the cancer centre in Vancouver for her appointments.

Another nurse said it took one of their patients more than three hours for a ride after an appointment, adding they were hungry and just wanted to go home but couldn’t.

These are just a few of many tales that echo similar struggles that played out on Wednesday.

Protests were held at several hospitals in B.C., including Vancouver General, and across the country.

In Vancouver, police say there were about 5,000 people at the demonstrations in the city. No one was arrested.

Paramedics, hospital transfers impacted in Vancouver

While the protesters’ actions weighed heavily on frontline workers, some are also outlining the impact they had on those needing care.

Paramedics were among the many who are expressing frustration and anger. Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance, Paramedics, and Dispatchers of B.C., says the events of Wednesday elicited an emotional response.

“We try and balance the rights of people — that’s one of the things that makes Canada great, our right to protest and express our feelings and that. But when it impedes somebody’s potential loved one getting to a hospital or crew responding to a call, that’s a really hard thing to reconcile because we know every minute in an emergency situation can be critical,” he explained.

“That’s all the pressure on paramedics, and they’re already facing a lot. It was really tough watching them try to navigate through that scene, the safety of that, the risks that puts on the public.”

He says the stress of it all can even add to a patient’s condition.

Clifford notes paramedics are already used to dealing with traffic or crowds. However, he says the protest was an extreme circumstance that just added to the pressure.

“If you have somebody having a heart attack or cardiac condition, and we know anxiety and pressure can enhance their condition, I can’t imagine what the paramedic’s feeling trying to reassure people,” he said.

Trevor White is the operations director at SN Transport, better known as Hospital Transfers. He says he heard from drivers in Vancouver all afternoon.

“I was actually quite surprised,” he told NEWS 1130, saying he didn’t think protesters would actually block access to his team’s vehicles or ambulances.

“I had a few drivers call me during the day saying, basically, they’re blocked in, can’t get out to the front entrance. They’ve got patients in the back of their vehicles or ambulances.”

White explains he told his members to sit and wait, noting the situation was “pretty confrontational.”

The protest was just the latest thing to impact the service. White says 50 to 60 vehicles were sent to the B.C. Interior to help with evacuation efforts in recent weeks.

With the wildfire situation slowly improving, he says many of the patients who were brought to the Lower Mainland now need to be transported back — taking up more vehicles.

“It’s left us short down here, and it just escalated (Thursday) with all these marches and protesters going around,” he added.

While Hospital Transfers don’t typically transport people in emergency situations, they do take people in urgent situations, such as those in need of dialysis or cancer treatment, to their appointments.

White could not say for sure what kinds of appointments people who were being impacted by the protests were heading to, however, he notes there were dozens of vehicles on the road.

“I was just getting numerous calls from dispatch saying ‘What do we do? What do we do?’ and there was nothing you could do. Basically just advise clinics that people were going to be late,” he explained.

“They’re not drivers, my people are caregivers. Anyone can drive a vehicle. They truly care about the people and they just don’t like to see the impact [the protests] had. And it’s quite scary and daunting when you’ve got an elderly, frail lady sitting in the back in a wheelchair in a vehicle that crews are trying to drive through, basically, hoards of people. It’s scary for them — the patient and the driver,” White added.

While VGH was understanding, given the proximity of the protests to the hospital, White says there were some outsourced clinics that didn’t initially understand why there were so many delays.

“Our drivers have worked so hard. We’ve obviously worked through 18 months in the middle of COVID. It’s just frustrating, so frustrating,” he told NEWS 1130. “People are free to protest, it’s freedom of speech. But to do it outside a hospital? They know our vehicles, they know what we’ve got … how would they feel if it was their mother, their auntie, their brother, their sister? It’s just disgraceful.”

Despite the struggles, White says his drivers kept their calm and didn’t get into any confrontations.

He, like many others, feels the protesters didn’t do anything to further their cause.

Protests spark anger online

The protests have prompted a wave of outrage.

Some on social media have expressed their anger, telling others if they attended these protests to “unfollow me” or “remove me from your friend list.”

The protests have also prompted harsh words from those in the health care sector, many noting the high rate of COVID-19 infection in those who have not been vaccinated.

“ICUs are being filled with unvaccinated. Should we delay care for that patient with cancer or that person waiting for their surgery because someone took that away from them by choosing not to get vaccinated? Right now unvaccinated are bumping other patients. Fair?” tweeted Kevin Mcleod, an Internal Medicine Specialist for the North Shore and Whitehorse.

There has also been an overwhelming number of messages of support to frontline workers, many of whom are already dealing with burn out about 18 months into this pandemic.

However, despite the disruptions, many of the health care workers have vowed to continue to go to work.

“We were working hard long before the pandemic. We miss out on sleep, emptying bladders, meals, life to serve. Our nurses and staff are stellar- and they are burning out. Morale is low. Tensions are high. Beds are full,” Dr. Way’s Facebook post continues.

“But we wake up. Tired. We show up. Discouraged. We work more than our required time. Because our patients need it. I’m halfway through 3 weeks of continuous work. I do it because I made a commitment to care for my patients. Often at the expense of my own well-being. Just like my colleagues.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Kari Way is a physician.

  • With files from Robyn Crawford

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today