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Health-care workers at anti-lockdown events 'extremely concerning'

'We would expect them to also promote and model adherence to public health measures outside our walls,' says RVH chief of staff
Local medical professionals have been seen joining the crowds at recent anti-lockdown protests in Barrie, which have been taking place since mid-March.

An anonymous reader, who claims to be a nurse at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH), recognized a woman sitting maskless among the crowd with hundreds of other protesters at the anti-lockdown rally as being a Barrie-based family physician.

“As a nurse at RVH, this is extremely concerning as the situation at the hospital is dire. She is not only directly compromising patient and staff safety, but she is promoting unsafe practices that will lead to the pandemic worsening," the reader stated in an email to BarrieToday.

The doctor in question has privileges at RVH, BarrieToday has confirmed. The physician did not return several requests for comment about her attendance at the rally, however. 

While RVH does not comment on personnel issues, chief of staff Dr. Jeffrey Tyberg said many hospitals, including Barrie's, are facing a significant increase in COVID patients right now. 

Tyberg says he has seen the number of COVID patients at RVH "spike" from as low as three to more than 60 at one point in recent weeks.

"This pandemic is very real and our staff are working long hours under extremely difficult conditions to safely care for COVID-infected patients," he said in an emailed statement to BarrieToday

As of today, the Barrie hospital has 21 inpatients with COVID-19, including six people in the main intensive care unit (ICU). Four of those patients are on ventilators. There is also one person in the critical care unit (CCU), who is also on a ventilator. 

To date, RVH has had 73 COVID-related deaths and cared for 475 patients who have contracted the virus. The local hospital has also accepted 199 patients transfers from hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Tyberg said it is “disheartening and extremely frustrating” to see people unsafely gathering and questioning the seriousness of this wave of the pandemic. 

“RVH’s staff and physicians strictly follow infection control practices and protocols in the health centre and, given the severity of the situation, we would expect them to also promote and model adherence to public health measures outside our walls," he said. 

"Diligently following those safety measures, along with the expanding vaccine program, will ensure we can slow the spread of this virus. We need everyone to do their part," Tyberg added.

Frank Perpete, who was touted as being a biochemist and microbiologist, was also on hand to speak recently at a local demonstration. Attempts by BarrieToday to locate Perpete for comment were also unsuccessful.

One of the recent guest speakers in Barrie was Jessica Faraone, a Toronto-based registered nurse who openly refused to comply with quarantine rules and mandated COVID-19 safety requirements after returning from an international trip.

Faraone did not end up speaking at the May 1 event in Barrie due to backlash from her family. She is also the subject of a petition calling for her to be suspended as a registered nurse.

Faraone told BarrieToday she began attending and speaking at various anti-lockdown rallies  including in Barrie  because she wanted to shed light on her experiences working in health care both in Canada and abroad in Tanzania, since the onset of the pandemic.

“Tanzania was completely open and restriction-free. No 'COVID' rules. Just beautiful humans living and connecting," she said. "There was no distancing, isolation, mask wearing... most of all there was no continuous COVID talk. COVID was not the topic of discussion among people. You didn't see signs or hear on the local radio 'Stay home, save lives'... So there was no fear."

Faraone said at the beginning of any of her speeches, she does tell the crowd she is not there to force her opinions or persuade anyone, but rather to try to shed light on her own experiences, so they know it’s OK to ask questions.

“I think we are so used to just blindly listening and following orders as it relates to health care because we have always trusted our health-care system," she said. "It is encouraged to critically think and not take my word for it. Do your own research. 

"I'm not saying you cannot trust doctors  our system relies on it. I’m saying it is a shared responsibility," Faraone added. "I think sometimes we like giving that responsibility to someone else so that if something goes wrong, we have someone or a system to blame for it. We do not need our health care to become a political platform.”

Understanding the context of the numbers that are being released is another matter Faraone says is important. 

“Of the cases, how many are asymptomatic? How many are critical? How many have other health issues? It is not so black and white,” she said. “Health is all-encompassing and includes so many different facets. The fact that we are counting and relying on a PCR test to determine the state of our country is illogical.

"I'm advocating for transparency because there are so many of us that are not familiar with medical jargon or science," Faraone added. "Society is clinging on and holding so much weight to these 'COVID case numbers' while having no context to the numbers. People are making life decisions based on these numbers while not understanding the context.”

Faraone says people need to "articulate" what the numbers mean in order to evaluate the risk. 

"We can't throw everyone in one pot and say this is the number and have them focus on the numbers (going) up or down without any meaning or context behind the number," she said. 

As the regulator for nursing in the province, the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) sets standards and professional accountabilities that support nurses in providing safe care, said spokesperson Angela Smith.

The CNO's website indicates public health protection measures  such as hand washing, masking and social distancing  are effective strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"With the imminent rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, CNO is taking this opportunity to make its expectations about providing advice on evidence-based public health protection and prevention measures clear to nurses in Ontario," says a statement on the college website. "Nurses are leaders in the community and the public’s trust in nurses may extend to their views on health matters communicated on social media and other forums. Statements made by nurses in public forums have the potential to impact the health and safety of the public."

It also states nurses have a professional accountability to use accurate sources of information based in scientific theory and evidence to inform their professional service and practice, support patients and the public to make informed health-care decisions, including decisions about public health prevention and protection measures.

"CNO’s practice standards do not apply to all aspects of a nurse’s private life. However, when a nurse communicates with the public and identifies as a nurse, they invoke their professional position as a nurse and are accountable to CNO and the public it protects," the college states. 

Nurses are expected to adhere to the standards of practice in carrying out their professional responsibilities. 

"Nurses have a professional responsibility to not publicly communicate anti-vaccination, anti-masking and anti-distancing statements that contradict the available scientific evidence," the college says. "Doing so may result in an investigation by CNO and disciplinary proceedings when warranted."

Similarly, a spokesperson for the College of Physicians and Surgeons or Ontario (CPSO) told BarrieToday that doctors hold a unique position of trust with the public and must not make comments or provide advice that encourage people to act contrary to public health orders and recommendations. 

“Although we are prohibited from disclosing the details of individual complaints under the Regulated Health Professions Act, physicians must be guided by the laws, code of ethics and professional conduct, or regulatory standards when offering these opinions," the spokesperson said. 

Dr. Allan Grill is a family physician and associate professor with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. He also serves as the current president and chair of the Association of Family Health Teams Ontario (AFHTO), an organization which supports the 186 family health teams in Ontario.

Grill says he's doing his best to support the recommendations by public health. 

“We are supposed to be staying at home, unless we are going out for essential reasons, and we are supposed to avoid crowds wherever possible," he told BarrieToday. "I am just doing my best as a family doctor… to pass the same advice along to my patients.

“It’s very important that we all act responsibly during this time. We are in a crisis," Grill added. "There are public health guidelines being put out there to keep people safe. People need to understand that all of our actions can have implications on other people, so we have to do our best to be as responsible as possible.”

If people opt to do things such as getting together with others, Grill says it has to be done in a safe way that supports public health measures. 

“You want to try to maintain physical distance, you want to try to do as many things as you can outdoors, but I think getting together in crowds is not something that is being recommended at this time," he said. "We want to do things that are going to keep people as safe as possible.

“We look to our public health colleagues to give us advice on that and we try our best to follow it," Grill added. "My stance on this is we need to support the recommendations from our public health colleagues during these challenging times.”