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Ambulances pelted with rocks during protest; health workers, patients face added stress, delays

Throughout the weekend and into Monday, many health workers had difficulty getting to work, as did some patients who were trying to reach hospitals.

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Paramedics asked for police escorts over the weekend after at least two ambulances were pelted with rocks and protesters who appeared to be part of the truck convoy yelled racial slurs at one paramedic when he got out to check for damage.

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The paramedic was shaken, said Jocelyne Marciano, operations commander for the Ottawa Paramedic Service. Those paramedics assigned to work on foot among the chaotic crowds that converged around Parliament Hill on the weekend felt unsafe, she said.

In addition to throwing rocks, she said some apparent protesters were belligerent and tried to slow ambulances down.

“For the first couple of days (of the protests), they felt, not that their lives were threatened, but they didn’t feel safe like in a Canada Day situation,” she said.

Once paramedics got a greater police presence around their vehicles and escorts for those on foot, things improved, she said.

Paramedics were not the only front-line health workers who dealt with fallout from the “Freedom Convoy” protests, which drew thousands of people and trucks into Ottawa during the weekend, some waving symbols of hate, including swastikas and Confederate flags. Many of those protesters and their trucks remained on Wellington Street near the Parliament Buildings on Monday as police worked to de-escalate the situation and bring the protest to an end.

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Throughout the weekend and into Monday, many health workers had difficulty getting to work, as did some patients who were trying to reach hospitals. Montfort Hospital said it was particularly concerned about expectant mothers heading to hospital to give birth.

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As Ottawa residents were becoming increasingly fed up with the disruptions, noise and intimidation associated with the protests, health services and vaccine clinics in the city core remained closed Monday into Tuesday.

Doors at the Centretown Community Health Centre on Cooper Street were locked Monday, although the clinic provided some services.

Director of primary care Lynsey James said staff members were concerned about vulnerable clients who use the clinics for drop-ins and a number of services. She said clients living in the neighbourhood have told staff they felt besieged, were afraid to leave their homes and unable to sleep because of the honking. One client of the clinic told staff he was harrassed by protesters outside his home.

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Wendy Muckle, executive director of Inner City Health, said staff members are seeing more behavioural issues and more drug and alcohol abuse among clients reacting to the noise and chaos of the protests.

She said a nurse working for Inner City Health had been unable to sleep because of the noise outside in the ByWard Market and had to take time off work.

For many health workers across the region, the unprecedented protest has made an already difficult month, two years into the pandemic, even tougher.

Many struggled to get into work, while others extended their shifts to wait for staff delayed in traffic.

Some health workers stayed overnight in rooms near the hospitals where they work because of the difficulty getting back and forth to work over jammed or closed bridges. Others waited long hours in traffic to get to work and at least one emergency physician reportedly ditched his car on a gridlocked interprovincial bridge and walked an hour-and-a-half to his hospital job.

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CHEO president and CEO Alex Munter said a family with a baby heading to CHEO from Quebec was unable to make it across the bridge and went, instead, to an emergency department in Gatineau.

Like other hospitals, CHEO kept staff members informed of the traffic situation on bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau during the weekend, and helped those having difficulty by offering hotel rooms and paying for some Quebec-based staff to take the Cumberland ferry instead of dealing with traffic tie-ups.

Medical student Jennifer Horwitz tweeted that she headed home after her shift at CHEO and was unable to get to her downtown apartment because of the protests. “My apartment is completely inaccessible from any direction. Glad to see this is what freedom looks like!” she said.

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Munter said he reached out to her after seeing her tweet and helped her find alternate accommodations.

Munter added that many staff members living in the centre of Ottawa felt “besieged” and he heard from many with concerns about symbols of hate displayed by some participants.

“I share the concerns I’ve heard from many CHEO staff, particularly those who are Jewish, LGBTQ+ or members of minority communities. Swastikas and other symbols of hate have no place in our community. It is time for the protesters to go.”

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On Monday, The Ottawa Hospital told staff and patients to expect traffic delays and plan accordingly. It said it has a limited number of rooms in the residence next to the Civic campus for staff working consecutive days and having trouble getting in.

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