Take care of each other

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a Glebe family doctor who organized “Jabapalooza” immunization clinics, is the object of vitriol and a death threat for her efforts. photo : Art Kaplan-Myrth

By Nili Kaplan-Myrth

At the end of August, I was filled with joy and hope as we’d just run five “Jabapalooza” events through my little Glebe office with a team of Ottawa volunteers, immunizing more than 2,000 people (construction workers, bus drivers, teachers, child-care providers, other essential workers, people with disabilities, seniors).

Fast forward to the morning of Monday, November 1. I received a death threat. You might have heard about it or read about it. Elizabeth Payne wrote about it in the Ottawa Citizen on November 3, and I wrote about it in The Globe and Mail on November 8. My response to that threat was surprise, then anger, then fear. How dare anyone call for me to be killed because of the work that I do as a family doctor? It is so troubling, a line that cannot be crossed.

I am vulnerable because I have spoken out publicly about my concerns about gaps in our healthcare system: about the dearth of resources for primary care (more than 80,000 people in the Ottawa area are without a family doctor); about challenges early in the pandemic with our inability to access personal protective equipment; about patients struggling to access COVID-19 tests; about provincial and national issues of equity and access to COVID-19 vaccines.

I did all of that because there was a dire need, because my patients and the broader community in Ottawa and our colleagues who work in the hospitals needed help. If I were to travel back in time, I’d make all the same choices. It is necessary advocacy.

Sadly, this is not an isolated event. I am not the only person who is being threatened and harassed. There have been anti-vax protests outside hospitals, disrupting patients while they try to seek care and my beleaguered colleagues while they desperately try to save lives at CHEO, The Ottawa Hospital, the Queensway Carleton and the Montfort. Many physician and nurse colleagues have shared their stories with me, across Ontario and across the country. It is unconscionable for advocacy to result in threats and harassment.

We are now authorized to vaccinate 5 to 11-year-old children against COVID-19 and encourage everyone to get a shot as soon as possible. Yet we are afraid of the upswing in nastiness and violence. This is not what we should be dealing with, exhausted after almost two years of caring for you.

To be sure, threats, harassment and harm are not only directed toward healthcare professionals. Grocers have been verbally and physically assaulted for reminding shoppers to wear masks. Restaurant owners and staff in local businesses have been confronted for asking patrons to show their COVID-19 vaccine certificates.

I love to work in the Glebe. I am proud of Ottawa for stepping up so quickly to do the right things – wearing masks, social distancing, getting COVID-19 tests and rolling up your sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine when you were eligible.

We need to say very clearly that we will not tolerate intimidation, disruptive behaviour or any form of harassment. Like we’ve said throughout the pandemic, we are in this together. So for the sake of our community and humanity, take care of each other, be kind.

Dr Nili Kaplan-Myrth, MD, CCFP, PhD, is a family doctor and anthropologist who writes about health policy and politics. She co-hosts a podcast, Rx:Advocacy.ca Follow her on Twitter: @nilikm.

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