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HKPR health unit asking residents to express their COVID-19 thoughts respectfully

DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: While Ontario continues to move through this COVID-19 pandemic, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) is encouraging people to treat their staff respectfully, regardless of their opinions on the pandemic orders. Recently, the local health unit posted this message on their website. “Respect, Professionalism and Communication are core values of the HKPR District Health Unit. We’re pleased to take your calls at 1-866-888-4577, but will have zero tolerance for callers who use profane, abusive or disrespectful language. Any such calls will not be responded to, and where calls include threats, police will be contacted.” HKPR’s Director of Health Protection, Anne Marie Holt, told The Standard, in an email, the health unit has received mixed reactions from community members regarding the requirement to wear masks or face coverings in indoor commercial settings, put in effect in early July. “We have heard from thousands of people throughout the pandemic response. Some are seeking information while others want to express their agreement or disagreement with a Health Unit practice. When the Health Unit recently issued instructions for indoor spaces to have a policy in place requiring patrons wear a mask while inside an establishment, we received many emails, phone calls and comments on social media – some positive and some negative,” she said. “Any public health program that requires enforcement is always met with mixed reactions. Sometimes this reaction can be loud or include inappropriate language. We do have signs in our offices reminding members of the public that they will not be provided service if they speak to our staff inappropriately or are threatening in any way. As people are still not coming into Health Unit offices, we wanted to post the message on our website to be sure people received the same message.” Ms. Holt added, messages have come from people who say “they appreciate the requirement”, but also “others have told [them] in no uncertain terms that they do not agree.” Despite referencing threats in the online post, Ms. Holt told The Standard the health unit has not had any threats levelled against them yet. “There have not been direct threats, but when a caller leaves an angry voicemail or sends an email full of inappropriate language, our staff have been directed to not follow up with the person. As a result, some of these people feel they have been ignored and that makes them angrier. The message on the website lets them know they will not be hearing back from the Health Unit if they use inappropriate language.” With the pandemic making the job busier for HKPR staff in 2020, the health unit wants to do what they can to protect them. “Health Unit staff have been working tirelessly throughout this pandemic since the end of January. Only now are staff starting to end their days at a normal time, take weekends off or take a vacation. We have had lots of discussions about the need for our staff to take some time off to recharge and get ready for a potential second wave coming in the fall,” Ms. Holt said. “The safety and psychological health and safety of our staff is a priority. We have put numerous supports in place for our staff, to help with the workload or give them an outlet when feeling overwhelmed. Listening to, or reading rude messages filled with inappropriate language is not easy for our staff.

They have been working hard, and it is difficult for anyone to be subjected to that kind of language. We can appreciate everyone does not agree with the Health Unit’s actions, but we ask people to please be respectful when sharing your concerns.” Ms. Holt stressed the importance of everyone continuing to physically distance, wash their hands and stay home when they are sick. “We need to work together to keep the level of COVID-19 transmission low in our communities. As more things continue to relax, we will be coming in contact with more people. As many people do not realize they are ill with the virus, we need to be sure we do everything we can to protect ourselves and others from the spread of the virus. The virus has not gone away, and as we have seen from other parts of the world and Canada, there is still the risk of increased cases once restrictions are relaxed.”

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