Misinformation leads to animosity toward Idaho health care workers

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A constant barrage of misinformation has Idaho health care workers facing increased animosity from some patients and community members, officials say. It’s gotten so bad in northern Idaho that some Kootenai Health employees are scared to go to the grocery store if they haven’t changed out of their scrubs, said hospital spokeswoman Caiti Bobbitt on Tuesday.

Some doctors and nurses at the Coeur d’Alene hospital have been accused of killing patients by grieving family members who don’t believe COVID-19 is real, Bobbitt said. Others have been the subject of hurtful rumors spread by people angry about the pandemic.

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

Similar instances are happening across the state, said Brian Whitlock, president of the Idaho Hospital Association.

“We’ve had reports of physical violence, verbal abuse, demands for alternative treatment that are not acceptable or approved. And those become very difficult conversations to have as the patient continues to decompensate,” Whitlock said. “We’re not frustrated with the misinformed. We’re frustrated with those who propagate the misinformation because it’s costing people their lives.”

Misinformation remains rampant in Idaho. Some far-right state lawmakers, political organizations and local leaders — including a pathologist who was recently appointed to the public health board for the state’s most populated region — have been dismissive of COVID-19 vaccines, pushed the use of an anti-parasitic drug to treat coronavirus despite potentially harmful side effects and little evidence it helps, and wrongly claimed that coronavirus case numbers are being inflated.

Meanwhile, the entire state entered “crisis standards of care” earlier this month, authorizing health care rationing for hospitals overwhelmed by a flood of COVID-19 patients. On Sept. 25, the state hit new records with 757 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including 202 in intensive care unit beds and 131 on ventilators.

“It’s something that we worry about every day,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said.

The agency works to debunk coronavirus-related misinformation through weekly briefings, social media and through meetings with other agencies and organizations, he said.

He added: “We have people that are needlessly suffering in hospitals and being sick, and frankly we have people dying because of misinformation that’s out there.”

“We’ve had reports of physical violence, verbal abuse, demands for alternative treatment that are not acceptable or approved. And those become very difficult conversations to have as the patient continues to decompensate,” Whitlock said. “We’re not frustrated with the misinformed. We’re frustrated with those who propagate the misinformation because it’s costing people their lives.”

Misinformation remains rampant in Idaho. Some far-right state lawmakers, political organizations and local leaders — including a pathologist who was recently appointed to the public health board for the state’s most populated region — have been dismissive of COVID-19 vaccines, pushed the use of an anti-parasitic drug to treat coronavirus despite potentially harmful side effects and little evidence it helps, and wrongly claimed that coronavirus case numbers are being inflated.

Meanwhile, the entire state entered “crisis standards of care” earlier this month, authorizing health care rationing for hospitals overwhelmed by a flood of COVID-19 patients. On Sept. 25, the state hit new records with 757 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including 202 in intensive care unit beds and 131 on ventilators.

“It’s something that we worry about every day,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said.

The agency works to debunk coronavirus-related misinformation through weekly briefings, social media and through meetings with other agencies and organizations, he said.

He added: “We have people that are needlessly suffering in hospitals and being sick, and frankly we have people dying because of misinformation that’s out there.”

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