Nurses Changing Out of Scrubs Before Leaving Hospital to Avoid Being Harassed in Public

While medical workers were lauded as heroes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some nurses now have to change out of their scrubs before leaving work to avoid public harassment, the Associated Press reported. Nurses in Idaho said that fear of an angry confrontation keeps them from even going to the grocery store in their work attire.

Some doctors and nurses at one hospital in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho have been accused by family members of killing their loved ones who have succumbed to the virus, according to hospital spokeswoman Caiti Bobbit. She said that other people angered by the COVID-19 pandemic spread hurtful rumors about medical workers at the hospital.

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

Cox Medical Center Branson in Missouri began distributing panic buttons to nurses and other workers after yearly assaults tripled between 2019 and 2020 to 123, a spokeswoman said. One nurse who was attacked had to get an X-ray for her shoulder, the AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Medical Workers See Hostility Amid Pandemic
Across the country, doctors and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic are dealing with hostility, threats and violence from patients angry over safety rules designed to keep the virus from spreading. A nurse works on a computer while assisting a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Los Angeles on November 19, 2020. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Across the country, doctors and nurses are dealing with hostility, threats and violence from patients angry over safety rules designed to keep the scourge from spreading.

"A year ago, we're health care heroes and everybody's clapping for us," said Dr. Stu Coffman, a Dallas-based emergency room physician. "And now we're being in some areas harassed and disbelieved and ridiculed for what we're trying to do, which is just depressing and frustrating."

Over Labor Day weekend in Colorado, a passerby threw an unidentified liquid at a nurse working at a mobile vaccine clinic in suburban Denver. Another person in a pickup truck ran over and destroyed signs put up around the clinic's tent.

"It's just another added pressure on health workers who have already been experiencing a lot of stress," said Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where some doctors have received online threats.

Across the U.S., the COVID-19 crisis has caused people to behave badly toward one another in a multitude of ways.

Several people have been shot and killed in disputes over masks in stores and other public places. Shouting matches and scuffles have broken out at school board meetings. A brawl erupted earlier this month at a New York City restaurant over its requirement that customers show proof of vaccination.

Dr. Chris Sampson, an emergency room physician in Columbia, Missouri, said violence has always been a problem in the emergency department, but the situation has gotten worse in recent months. Sampson said he has been pushed up against a wall and seen nurses kicked.

Dr. Ashley Coggins of St. Peter's Health Regional Medical Center in Helena, Montana, said she recently asked a patient whether he wanted to be vaccinated.

"He said, 'F, no,' and I didn't ask further because I personally don't want to get yelled at," Coggins said. "You know, this is a weird time in our world, and the respect that we used to have for each other, the respect that people used to have for caregivers and physicians and nurses — it's not always there, and it makes this job way harder."

Coggins said the patient told her that he "wanted to strangle President Biden" for pushing for vaccinations, prompting her to change the subject. She said 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.

The hostility is making an already stressful job harder. Many places are suffering severe staffing shortages, in part because nurses have become burned out and quit.

"I think one thing that we have seen and heard from many of our people is that it is just really hard to come to work every day when people treat each other poorly," said Dr. Kencee Graves, a physician at the University of Utah hospital in Salt Lake City.

"If you have to fight with somebody about wearing a mask, or if you aren't allowed to visit and we have to argue about that, that is stressful."

Nurses Help Fight Pandemic
While medical workers were lauded as heroes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, some nurses now have to change out of their scrubs before leaving work to avoid public harassment. Adrianna Webster (L) and Monica Castro (R), who came from Alabama and Pennsylvania, attend their first day of work to help Bellville Medical Center, in Bellville, Texas, September 1, 2021. Francois Picard/AFP via Getty Images