Some Montreal Hospital Workers Say Businesses Turning Them Away Over COVID-19

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
April 10, 2020Updated: April 10, 2020

MONTREAL—Premier Francois Legault hails Quebec health-care workers as “guardian angels,” but some say they are being denied services at banks and pharmacies when they reveal their occupations.

Olijah Springer, a nursing assistant and technician at the Montreal General Hospital, voiced his displeasure on Facebook last week after he was told he couldn’t shop at a Pharmaprix in the Montreal borough of LaSalle.

“It didn’t feel good,” Springer said in a subsequent interview. “I don’t know how to better describe it.”

Springer was asked by a clerk when he entered the store if he had any symptoms, or if he had been exposed to anyone with symptoms of COVID-19. He said no but explained he worked in a hospital. He says he was then told that someone would shop for him.

“At this point, I saw people that I knew from the area and they’re like ’What’s going on? Why are you standing on the side?’ ” Springer said. “Well, apparently I can’t be a public servant and shop at the same.”

The pharmacy referred questions to parent company Loblaw, which said in a statement that such measures have been adopted by up to a quarter of Quebec pharmacists and “are not corporately directed.”

Bertrand Bolduc, president of Quebec’s order of pharmacists, said all pharmacies across the province have strict hygiene measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. About a quarter of them have gone even further and operate under “closed-door” conditions.

Those pharmacies are closed to the public, he said. Employees will do the shopping for customers and make home deliveries or hand off products to clients in the parking lot.

As for the businesses that refuse to let certain health workers into the stores, Bolduc said it’s the pharmacy owner’s decision to make.

“There isn’t anyone in Quebec who is being deprived of the services of a pharmacy,” Bolduc said in an interview Wednesday. “And each owner is doing what they feel is right for their pharmacy.”

Springer says he was “frustrated” and eventually left the store without making any purchases. He also says he endured a similar experience at a bank, when his financial adviser explained they would be limiting contact with health-care workers.

Denyse Joseph, vice-president of the provincial nurses’ union says she has heard similar stories of nurses being denied service from two other businesses. She says she has yet to hear of any formal complaints.

“It’s not because you’re a health-care professional that you’ll automatically contaminate people around you,” Joseph said.

“We know what precautions we have to take. They’re very, very cautious about the precaution not to contaminate either other health-care professionals … patients and families,” she said of the province’s nurses. “I think we have to trust their judgment.”

The shunning of nurses flies in the face of the premier’s regular praise of health-care workers as saviours. “You are our guardian angels. We’re counting on you,” Legault said March 13. “You are doing an extraordinary job, and I want to tell you we’re ready to support you in any way possible.”

The TD Bank says it recently met with an unhappy customer who says she was refused service at a branch in Montreal’s West Island because she is an intensive care nurse. 

Golda McLean, told radio station CJAD that when she went to the branch March 30, she was asked if she had any contact with the coronavirus.

When she said yes, she said she was told: “No, I’m sorry—you guys might be angels but we’re not serving nurses right now.”

Carla Hindman, manager of corporate and public affairs of TD Bank said bank officials have since met with McLean and “resolved her needs.”

“To help curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect our colleagues and other customers, we continue to ask customers not to come into the branch if their needs aren’t urgent and necessary to do in person,” Hindman said in a statement.

“Instead, we are inviting them to do their banking online, via our mobile app, ATM or telephone banking wherever possible.”

By Julian McKenzie