Healthcare workers across the country, already strained by the demands of caring for COVID-19 patients, face another threat in the workplace: medical conspiracy theorists harassing them with phone calls, and even showing up at their hospitals.
Last week, a Chicago hospital treating known anti-vaxxer and QAnon supporter Veronica Wolski for COVID became the target of such threats.
AMITA Health Resurrection Medical Center reportedly received hundreds of phone calls from Wolski’s followers, demanding she receive alternative medical care, including the antiparasitic ivermectin.
The hospital declined to comment to MedPage Today, but in a statement released to Chicago TV station NBC5, AMITA said it’s following CDC and FDA guidelines in the treatment of COVID-19, and also confirmed earlier this month that it wasn’t administering ivermectin for COVID-19.
Wolski died Monday morning from pneumonia from “novel corona (COVID-19) viral infection” with hypothyroidism, according to a report from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
Fueling the flood of calls to the hospital was a right-wing lawyer, Lin Wood, who harnessed his more than 800,000 Telegram followers with a call to “go to war” against what he called “medical tyranny in our country and around the world,” although he said on his Telegram channel he did not mention ivermectin in connection to Wolski’s treatment. Wood’s message called her death a “medical murder.”
Wolski’s supporters began calling the hospital to complain about her medical care, according to the NBC5 report and Wolski’s Telegram channel.
According to a Freedom of Information officer for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), at least nine 911 calls were made related to the incident.
At least one of those calls was from hospital staff on Sunday, who were concerned about an “irate” person who wouldn’t leave the hospital, the officer said.
“Security’s trying to remove them from the location, the person was screaming, people are showing up to the hospital,” the officer said, reading from the call report. “There was a lot going on that day, I guess.”
According to one Telegram user, 20 to 30 cars showed up at Resurrection Hospital.
Other calls, the officer said, were from people calling on Wolski’s behalf, telling dispatchers that the patient was “being held against her will” and that they “wanted to make sure she’s being treated fairly. … There were a bunch of calls about her.”
Though a reporter for the Daily Beast tweeted about police being called “amid bomb threats,” the officer said she didn’t see a record of bomb threats related to the incident. No police reports were filed, according to a representative from the Chicago Police Department.
One of Wolski’s supporters on Telegram wrote in her channel, “The receptionist hung up on me … as soon as I said Veronica Wolski’s name. How freakin rude. We need to start a campaign THAT NO ONE . IF THEY CAN at all HELP it BE ADMITTED TO THAT HOSPITAL.”
Another wrote on September 12, “Resurrection has horrible reception, likely on purpose. Cannot understand menu. CALL POLICE INSTEAD!!!!!!”
Other commenters shared the physical address of the hospital.
With healthcare workers increasingly targeted as misinformation about treatments for COVID-19 swirls, incidents like this one are a cause for concern, experts said.
“We did see a rise in cases of violence and harassment when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, and such cases continue to this day,” Jason Straziuso, a media representative for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which collected data on violent incidents against healthcare workers related to COVID-19 last year, wrote in an email. “This puts healthcare workers in harm’s way and under increased stress at a time when they are sorely needed, in particular in COVID-19 hotspots.”