A doctor at a hospital in southern Manitoba says staff are fatigued by the recent crush of admissions, but they also face something else that is draining energy and morale.
Staff at Boundary Trails Health Center routinely listen to sick and unvaccinated patients who believe the pandemic is a hoax — some of whom remain defiant even on the verge of death.
“We hear this almost every day, and I know it’s amazing,” said Dr. Janesan Apo. “It’s hard…to know that nearly 100 percent of our admissions have not been vaccinated.”
Abu is an anesthesiologist and physician in the special care unit at Boundary Trails, located more than 100 kilometers southwest of Winnipeg and between Morden and Winkler.
The area around the two small towns Lowest vaccination rate in the county, according to county data.
More and more patients have flowed in over the past two weeks amid the third wave of Manitoba. Abbou says he and many of his co-workers get up before dawn to start work recently just to keep up.
He said the hospital has shifted two of its medical and surgical units to COVID-19 districts. The hospital also suffered from a lack of oxygen over the weekend due to an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients being placed on ventilators.
Abbou said the Boundary Trails nurses and the hospital’s only respiratory therapist took on the heavy workload.
Employees also face something beyond the hours spent caring for more people than usual.
“I think the nurses have found it difficult to engage with society, certain segments of society, who think this is a hoax, that the virus doesn’t exist, and other lies, like a vaccine will put a chip in every one of us who’s been vaccinated and people will be able to track us down.”
“It goes against the efforts of nurses and health care staff who are really extending themselves to help the community in need.”
Some employees have to deal with family members who are frustrated because they can’t see their loved ones in the hospital or believe they died from something other than COVID-19.
He said it was not uncommon for people to break the rules and enter hospital without a mask.
“They say, you know, it’s a hoax,” he said. “We hear this all the time.”
Apo personally suffered from patients who, even on the verge of death, remained in denial and continued to assert lies about the pandemic.
“Two patients died, and until the time of their death, they did not think they had it,” Abbou said.
“It’s not like we’re trying to convince a patient that he has COVID before he dies. These patients are in great denial, they are volunteering this information.”
Abbou said one patient who did not believe he had COVID-19 came home and later died. He said the family of another patient who died did not believe it was COVID-19 and asked if they could perform an autopsy to confirm it.
Although Abu says it’s only a “loud minority” of people in the Southern Health District who don’t take coronavirus seriously, what Boundary Trails staff see at the hospital is part of a larger problem.
Southern Health has the lowest vaccine uptake rates by region in Manitoba. Just over 40 percent of people there received at least one dose, which is about 15 to 20 percent less than any of the other four regions.
Manitoba health officials had to work with local religious and community leaders recently to try to stimulate uptake of the vaccine. Although the needle is moving in the right direction in some societies, progress is slow.
As of Friday, about 12 percent of the Stanley Health District, which surrounds Finkler and Morden, had received a dose — a number double what it was a month ago.
Rates in the Winkler Health District have risen from 14 percent late last month to nearly 24 percent. Vaccination rates were 49 percent in Morden health district specifically on Friday, compared to 36 percent in neighboring Altona health district, and about 37 percent in Hanover and Steinbach counties.
Regional officials and religious leaders in the south have made clear that reluctance to receive the vaccine is linked to a mistrust of government that spans decades or more. This includes religious groups that suffered historical damage at the hands of governments abroad before immigrating to Canada, including Mennonite communities.
Abbou said that if he meets a patient in the clinic who is in relatively good health and develops misconceptions about the epidemic, he might talk to him about the evidence to the contrary.
He takes a different path when dealing with critically ill patients, especially when they lie in a hospital bed teetering on the edge of a cliff.
“I try to never challenge a patient, not in this situation,” he said.
“You need to earn their trust. They have to believe that you will do everything possible to help them survive this, and that’s what I want.”