SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers were praised as heroes, but now that seems to have changed. Healthcare workers around the Ozarks say over the last few months they’ve experienced yelling and even threats.

“We were being talked about as healthcare heroes and now for whatever reason, we’ve become the whipping post of healthcare,” said Tracy Hill, a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital. “Part of it is just disbelief on our part. We do not understand why we are being treated the way that we are being treated. We’re challenged with providing care to extremely sick patients. I would never go into a store and have the conversations patients are trying to have with us. I’m in a position to help them and provide care.”

Hill became a bedside nurse two years ago. She says most nurses have faced bad treatment when a patient calls them into their room. Sometimes that leads to cursing and yelling, which gets so loud to the point that other nurses are coming into the room to figure out what’s wrong.

“One particular time I said, ‘Hi I’m Tracy I’m your nurse I’ll be taking care of you,’ and the patient literally screamed at me to get out of their room,” Hill said. “That is nicely putting what this patient said to me.”

Hill and other nurses have witnessed or been victims of verbal abuse several times.

“We’ve walked out together and shared tears,” Hill said. “You to start to wonder, ‘Is this something that I really want to continue to do?’ Your heart really has to be in it day after day to continue to come in and suffer that type of abuse.”

In the past year at CoxHealth locations, system chief nursing officer Beth Polivka says there have been 4,127 reported incidents of aggression or violence towards hospital staff.

“We’ve had staff spit on,” Polivka said. “I was talking with an employee just three weeks ago who had bruising underneath her eye who had taken a punch. It’s hitting, it’s kicking, it’s biting.”

Of those reported incidents, 637 cases were assaults. More than 320 situations resulted in a staff member getting hurt. Polivka says it’s gotten to the point where almost one employee a day is not only assaulted but injured.

“It’s disheartening at times,” Polivka said.

With all of this going on, Mercy and CoxHealth have a request for patients: Be better.

“I would just ask that people just be empathetic with us as well,” Mercy nurse Tracy Hill said. “We’re making a choice to be here to support you.”

Hill says her team deserves more respect, especially because they put themselves in danger to help others. She says her team is working to pick up the slack and continue to help patients who aren’t even theirs. Hill says people never know what is happening in the room next door to them. Often times, it’s a patient who is as sick, or sicker than them.

She encourages people to keep that in mind the next time they visit with a healthcare worker.

“We deserve even more empathy and respect for continuing to serve in this community,” Hill said. “Show us your grace. I promise you we are providing the best care to everyone that we can.”

Beth Polivka with CoxHealth says it all comes down to just being a nice human. Polivka wants people to know her staff is working as hard and fast as they can to give patients the best care possible.

“I think just being patient and being kind,” Polivka said. “I think that’s a good message for all of humanity whether you’re in a hospital setting or you’re not.”

However, despite the sudden negativity being thrown at healthcare workers, there are heartwarming moments like this that make it a little easier: