'It's a crazy mess': Northern doctor quits after online harassment related to COVID-19
Latchford, Ont., is now in the market for a new family doctor.
The trouble began after long-time physician Dr. Gretchen Roedde tried to limit who could physically come into the clinic.
It's important to note, Roedde said she wasn't refusing to treat people who are unvaccinated, but was looking for ways to treat patients in a safe manner.
It's a move that's been undertaken in several other clinics including those in larger cities.
"There's been a lot of anger on social media and it's been about COVID and about physicians trying to limit who comes into the clinic," she said.
"So if you haven't been vaccinated, then we're trying to say there's safer ways to look after you -- maybe we'll do things remotely, maybe we'll do things by phone, we'll see you in the clinic when necessary. I think people thought that was a violation of their rights."
But a local councillor read that differently and it was suggested on social media that she was refusing to treat the unvaccinated.
"It's just become sort of this crazy mess," Roedde said. "We have vaxxers and anti-vaxxers yelling at each other when we have a job to do and we should all be doing it together."
The Timiskaming district and Temagami have had a tough time controlling the spread of COVID-19 as of late. Earlier this week they reached 83 active cases, a record for the Timiskaming Health Unit.
Roedde said the rates are some of the worst in the province. At 69 years of age, though, it was the online harassment that was one of the last straws.
"There was a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons about me so that was ... and I had an email from them," she said.
"So that was one trigger and then just some of the people that phoned and were harassing on the phone, that was another trigger and then I thought, you know really, it's time."
Roedde said she reached out to the councillor. They've since talked, made up and are working together to make sure the community gets vaccinated. He, though, has now been made a target himself.
'We had differences of opinion'
"We had differences of opinion, we've resolved our differences, we're working together to promote vaccination in the community and now it's very unfortunate to see that he's now subject to the same sort of Facebook harassment that I was," said Roedde.
She's hoping people will take a breath, let this go and start to focus on positive things like ending the pandemic.
"When you get this level of rage, it's obvious people are frightened and they see their doctor and decide 'oh let's take it out on my doctor,'" Roedde said.
"I'm not sure really where to go with this. I thought one step was reaching out to the councillor, he and I are now working together ... And then we didn't realize we had all these Facebook people wanting to be in a war when the generals had moved on."
In an email the Timiskaming Health Unit also called for cooler heads to prevail as Ontarians navigate COVID-19.
"We recognize that everyone has been through a lot during the pandemic and emotions are high, however, we are still asking for the support of people as we continue to do the necessary work that we do," said a spokesperson via email.
The Ontario Medical Association recently had a news conference calling on this sort of online harassment to stop.
OMA president Dr. Adam Kassam said situations like Latchford are unfortunate and indicative of a larger problem.
"It's a tragic story because we know smaller communities really rely on the few medical professionals that exist in their communities to provide care and so to have anyone leave the workforce as a result of bullying or intimidation and online harassment is really unacceptable" said Kassam.
"This is sort of a simple, human decency conversation that we're having but unfortunately it's mired by the fact that we've had so much division as a result of the pandemic and as we're starting to think about the future, we need to really focus on coming together."
For now, Roedde plans on staying on until a new replacement can be found for her practice and plans on working with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to facilitate that transition.
While she'll miss her patients, Roedde said she's looking forward to her next chapter of life.
CTV News has reached out to the town of Latchford to speak with the mayor and/or council and has not yet heard back.