Coronavirus: Montreal health-care workers feel targeted after allegedly being barred from stores

Click to play video: 'Quebec health-care workers feel targeted by strict store measures' Quebec health-care workers feel targeted by strict store measures
Health-care workers on the front lines of the COVID-pandemic in Quebec say some stores are going too far with their physical-distancing measures. Global's Phil Carpenter reports – Apr 27, 2020

In Quebec, some health-care workers are alleging that COVID-19 practices at some stores unfairly target them to the point of being discriminatory.

Kimberly Hurley, who works as an emergency room nurse, alleges she was denied entry when she stopped by a Walmart store in Laval — one of the only places she shops — on April 22.

Hurley said she forgot to remove her ID card after disinfecting it so she approached the store entrance with it hanging from her neck and was greeted by a security guard.

“He put his hand up and said ‘You can’t come in,'” Hurley told Global News. When she asked why, she said the security guard said if she works in health care, he could not let her in.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Quebec couple refused access to store because of their age

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Hurley says she felt insulted and hurt, especially after a rough day at the hospital.

“I hate to admit it but I kind of sat in my car after and cried a little bit,” she said, fighting back tears. “I think that it’s sad that we’re being called guardian angels and then all of a sudden, we’re contaminated.”

The nurse claimed that she told her colleagues what happened and said they too had similar experiences.

“Several of my nurses and the other employees that I work with said, ‘Oh yeah, it happened to me,'” said Hurley. stressing that it’s hard for her peers to face such treatment after work.

“One of the nurses said to me yesterday, she goes, ‘After being here all day, I just feel like forgetting about COVID for a few minutes and I just want to push my little cart through the grocery store for 20 minutes, and not think about work and just be me,'” she said, her voice shaking.

“That really touched me and that’s why I’m speaking out.”

Nick Boulieris, a patient attendant at another hospital, told Global News that he faced similar treatment at a Pharmaprix store in Montreal’s Gay Village on March 31.  Boulieris said he went to the establishment with his husband and they were met by an employee who asked if he’d been in contact with anyone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

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“Not anyone close to me except my patients,” he said he replied. “And that was it. All bets were off and she did not allow me entry at all.”

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Boulieris said his husband who was with him, was allowed in.

“I didn’t even know what to say,” he said. “And I just said ‘Well is this how you thank health-care workers? You’re welcome!'”

Both Boulieris and Hurley said that it makes no sense for health-care workers to be barred from stores just because they may have come into contact with COVID-19 patients, because they know how to protect themselves.

“Understand that as a health-care worker we are grilled on the daily about how to don and doff our PPE,” said Hurley.

“We are better educated about how to not get contaminated because we don’t want to bring it home to our families.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, Steeve Azoulay, Walmart Canada’s senior director of public affairs, wrote: “We are sorry to hear about this incident and are currently looking into it.  We can confirm that this is in contradiction with our policies as we do not deny entry to health-care workers.

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“We welcome all customers to shop in our stores and encourage them to respect the safety and physical distancing measures we have implemented.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Baie-d’Urfé residents create field of rainbows to thank front-line workers' Coronavirus outbreak: Baie-d’Urfé residents create field of rainbows to thank front-line workers
Coronavirus outbreak: Baie-d’Urfé residents create field of rainbows to thank front-line workers – Apr 26, 2020

The Quebec Order of Pharmacists say they have not issued instructions to bar medical professionals, but Pharmaprix did not respond to Global News’ request for comment.

The Retail Council of Canada gives COVID-19 guidelines to merchants and say store owners are not supposed to discriminate, and that directives were issued for business owners to support health-care workers.

“Certain retailers, they’re scared, they’re stressed like everybody else,” Retail Council of Canada Quebec president Marc Fortin explained.

“And they’re trying to make sure their employees are secure so maybe they take it a little too far.”

He said the council may have to remind business owners how to apply the protocols.

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READ MORE: Quebec workers pay tribute to Grace Dart patient attendant who died of COVID-19

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