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Health care workers deserve better

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 26, 2021 12:00 AM

Sanders County’s public health officer resigned last week at the request of county commissioners. The egregious offense? Publicly advocating for the Covid-19 vaccine as a safe and effective way to stop the spread of the virus, and providing advice about Covid safety protocol.

To be clear, Nick Lawyer, who also works as a physician’s assistant at the hospital in Plains, was “canceled” for expressing his professional opinion about public health amid a public health crisis. The county commission ultimately folded under the pressure of a minority of so-called activists who are gravely misinformed about the role of a public health officer, but managed to yell loudly and often enough until they got their way.

Unfortunately, it’s the majority of Sanders County citizens who will pay the price until that vacancy is filled, which will be a significant task on its own.

Lawyer’s untimely departure is a continuation of a troubling trend in Montana. According to a recent Associated Press report, at least 17 other public health officers in Montana have resigned, been fired or retired since the beginning of the pandemic.

The latest was Blaine County public health nurse Jana McPherson-Hauser, who stepped down because of the “constant negativity, push-back, disregard and lack of support” that health officials have faced throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawyer, a Sanders County native, said it was a difficult decision to resign amid the worsening health crisis there. According to New York Times data, new Covid cases in Sanders County are up 775% over the last two weeks, the highest percentage increase in the entire U.S. The latest state Covid report shows Clark Fork Valley Hospital over its bed capacity.

“I am not a quitter, and I am really frustrated that I have been asked to resign during a really critical point,” Lawyer told CBS News.

“I grew up in this community. I was born here. I am disappointed to see such a small vocal minority of people speak out so loudly and aggressively that the commissioners felt they had no other recourse.”

“It’s not personal,” he added, “it’s just politics.”

Therein lies the problem. The divisiveness is so deafening that recommendations from trained medical and public health professionals are being tossed aside with utter disregard, often in favor of political talking heads or unsourced social media blather.

It was beyond disheartening to read this week’s Kaiser Health News report on the Covid surge at the Billings Clinic, and the mistreatment nurses and physicians have needlessly endured as they fight to keep their Covid patients alive.

Threats have on occasion required police response, reporter Nick Ehli noted, and screaming, profanity-laden insults are a daily occurrence.

Billings Clinic Dr. Sara Nyquist said she has been asked by patients if she is a Democrat or Republican — as if that should matter.

“I said, ‘I am your doctor,’” she recalled. “You do wonder how we got here.”

If this is where we are, what is the path forward?

It has to be kindness, empathy and respect.

Montana’s health care workers are fighting for their communities like never before, including the physicians and nurses right here in the Flathead Valley. They are physically fatigued and mentally stressed — their morale is nearing a breaking point.

Now is the time to show appreciation and support. If you know a health care worker or someone working in public health, a simple “thank you” can go a long way.

And if you or a loved one is faced with fighting Covid in a hospital or clinical setting, just know that the doctors and nurses are there to fight with you — for you.

There’s nothing political about it.