Health Advice



'Stab in the heart': Health care workers reflect on abuse they've faced during pandemic

Paul Schwedelson, Idaho Statesman on

Published in Health & Fitness

"It's actually just very demoralizing," Carvalho said by phone. "It's hard when you've gone into a profession to help people and help them with the recommendations of the best evidence and the best science you can learn about. ... It's frustrating because both me as a physician and the patient's family, we want the patient to get better, but I feel that all of my knowledge and training is overlooked by people's families. I'm kind of more viewed as the enemy."

Eric Donahue, a hospitalist at West Valley Medical Center, said the most challenging part of the abuse he's faced is dealing with patients' angry family members. He's similarly dealt with verbal attacks and accusations.

Before the pandemic, Donahue rarely had these confrontations. Once or twice a month, he estimated. Now it's multiple times a day.

Donahue said he hasn't been physically assaulted, but he's been consistently accused of killing patients rather than attempting to save them. Accusations that he doesn't care about patients is what he's experienced the most.

"You've got to sell it to try to even get them to take whatever medication," Donahue said by phone. "Especially for COVID, you have to convince them you're not trying to harm them, but that you actually have motives that are kind and humane."

The number of nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to violence increased each year from 2011 to 2018 in the health care industry nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2018, health care workers accounted for 73% of all nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses due to violence.


Since the start of June, the Meridian Police Department has made at least two arrests at St. Luke's Meridian Medical Center for battery against a health care worker, a felony.

On June 6, Meridian police arrested a 57-year-old Meridian woman who was at the hospital to receive care. She became combative with a nurse and "delivered an open-hand strike across the face, attempted to bite the nurse and attempted to grab at multiple areas on the nurse's person," according to Meridian Police spokeswoman Kelsey Johnston.

On June 20, police arrested a 36-year-old Washington man who had previously been discharged from the hospital. He returned looking for a missing personal item and began arguing with the hospital staff. He "struck the security guard across the face," according to Johnston.

Abusive situations have stemmed from patients and their families experiencing some of the worst days of their lives and heightened anxiety that has existed since the start of the pandemic.


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